Who are you?
I am Georgina Lynch, assistant professor in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at Washington State University (WSU). I have a background in neuroscience research and received clinical training as a speech and language pathologist working with children with autism. I have worked with the autism population for the past 20 years and now am the director of the Integrative Brain Function and Neurodevelopment Lab (INLab).
What are you working on?
My research focuses on how we can better support healthcare providers in screening for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and help support the decision for a full evaluation. Pediatricians and other healthcare providers working with children are often on the frontlines helping children get resources and into early intervention services. My research involves the use of eye-tracking technology to study the pupillary light reflex to help explain underlying brain function in ASD. The pupillary light reflex tests to see how your pupil is responding to light, and the test is conducted by measuring how the pupil constricts and dilates when light is introduced and removed. This reflex can be an aspect of ASD because it measures the autonomic nervous system and brain function indirectly. Another aspect of the research includes creating prototypes of technology that could be used by healthcare providers to measure the pupillary light reflex and measure against the current standard. Most current tools used to diagnose autism are subjective in nature and the goal is to ensure objectivity across populations as we bolster current behavioral screening tools with this technology.
Why is this research important?
Autism occurs in 1 in 44 children in the United States. When children are diagnosed early and have access to intervention programs their long-term outcomes change substantially. Birth to five years old is a key time in a child’s brain development and a diagnosis between 18 and 24 months gives more opportunities for intervention. This research and technology aim to give healthcare providers more confidence when making an evaluation of ASD.