Dr. McPartland is the 2013 recipient of the Klerman Prize for Exceptional Achievement in Clinical Research
2009 NARSAD Young Investigator Grant:
Neural Correlates of Social Perception in Autism
James McPartland, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Child Psychiatry and Psychology and Director of the Developmental Disabilities Clinic at Yale University, is being honored for his discovery of a novel electrophysiological “marker” of eye contact that predicts social ability in children and is disrupted in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The new marker may enable early intervention techniques in very young children to slow progression of the illness and possibly even offer preventive possibilities.
In research initiated with his 2009 NARSAD Young Investigator Grant, supported by his Research Partnership with the Atherton Foundation, Dr. McPartland and colleagues have been measuring electrophysiological indices of social perception during the first months of life in infants at risk for developing ASD. The research team uses electroencephalo-graphy (EEG) to record electrical activity in the brain and coordinates it with eye tracking measurements of eye position and movement. To conduct their experiments, the team developed a set of computer-generated faces capable of producing controlled, realistic gaze changes and emotional expressions.
The researchers measured brain activity in subjects during face-to-face interactions to measure eye contact as a predictor of social ability. They found diminished eye contact in children with ASD and their data showed atypical developmental trajectories by six months of age. The team is currently assessing whether this marker can advance the objective of prevention by referring children before the onset of behavioral symptoms. They are also interested in using the marker to assess treatment outcome.
A graduate in psychology, magna cum laude, from Harvard University, Dr. McPartland earned a Ph.D. in child psychology at the University of Washington, Seattle, and completed clinical training at the Yale Child Study Center, where he began his independent research.
“The NARSAD Young Investigator Grant offered essential support at a critical juncture in my career. By ensuring research time and resources to invest in a lab, it empowered me to develop a program of research and advanced my goal of bettering the lives of children and families affected by neurodevelopmental disabilities.”