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Faculty Research Spotlight: Ruth Grossman and Social Signals of Kids with Autism

Each fiscal year, Emerson’s Office of Research and Creative Scholarships awards a number of Faculty Advancement Fund Grants, which help “sustain academic excellence in teaching, research/creative activity, and service.”

This year, nine faculty members teaching in five departments were awarded FAFGs to complete scholarly research, books, and films. Emerson College Today asked the recipients to talk a bit about their work.

Associate Professor Ruth Grossman teaches in the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department.


Project: “Social Signals During Partnered Classroom Engagement of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)”

What classes do you teach?

Neuroanatomy (grad class) [and] Autism (undergrad elective).

In a few sentences, what are you hoping to discover with this research?

I am trying to understand how children with ASD interact with neurotypical children in a classroom setting. We will use video recordings and eye-tracking technology to analyze the social eye gaze, verbal, and non-verbal communications produced by children with ASD. We will also measure how much effort their neurotypical conversation partners are expending to keep the conversation going.

How are you conducting the study?

We are partnering with the Jackson Mann School, part of [Boston Public Schools]. Jackson Mann is an Autism Strand school, providing education for over 500 students, about 100 of them with ASD in inclusion and substantially separate classrooms. Going into the integrated classrooms at Jackson Mann will allow us to record conversations between ASD and [neurotypical students] during partnered classroom activities.

Is this the first of its kind?

I am never comfortable saying “first” because I haven’t read EVERY paper out there! But using eye-tracking and video/audio coding in a natural classroom to investigate social communication in ASD is definitely novel. I’m trying to push the envelope of what is currently done by moving investigations of social communication skills in ASD out of the lab and into natural environments.

What person or persons, living or dead, would you most want to review this research?

I would like individuals with ASD and their families to look at this work and I hope it is meaningful to them.

What field of study outside your own areas of expertise do you wish you knew more about?

I’d like to know more about the process by which cuttlefish and other animals are able to change their color and appearance.


Previous spotlights:

Tylor Orme and “Let's Play” videos

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