The McPartland Lab investigates autism from a clinical neuroscience perspective. Clinical work informs our understanding of characteristics of autism and helps us appreciate what is relevant from the perspective of autistic individuals and their families. Guided by these clinical insights, we apply the methods of neuroscience to better understand the brain systems contributing to the unique strengths and vulnerabilities seen in autistic people.
What is Autism?
Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition defined by differences in social interaction, communication, and sensory behavior and interests. Autistic children are born with brains that process information differently from neurotypical people. As they develop, these differences shape their attention and social interactions which, in turn, influences how their brains continue to develop. All autistic people are different, which is why we call it a “spectrum”, but many share commonalities in the way they communicate, socialize, and experience the world.
What We Study
Our lab’s research is guided by a theory called the social motivation hypothesis which proposes that early occurring differences in social drive, social perception, or social anxiety influence an individual’s social development. We seek to improve the methods of neuroscience by developing novel and more realistic ways to measure social brain function and associated behavior. By more closely approximating true social interactions, our research will be better positioned to shed light on the actual experiences of autistic people. We aim to translate our research directly into clinical applications to better support autistic individuals in achieving their goals and experiencing a positive quality of life and to make clinical care more accessible. We believe that the interweaving of our roles as scientists and clinical practitioners enables us to conduct more responsible science and to communicate these insights directly to stakeholders in clinical settings. The objective of our work is to improve the lives of autistic individuals and their families.