Project Aurora

We propose to develop a comprehensive evaluation battery--the Aurora Battery--that will include multiple modules and will address the task of identification and development of intellectually gifted children. The battery will be designed to contain multiple modules so that it can be administered as a whole, or through an individual module, or through a combination of modules. The theoretical framework of the theory will be that of the theory of successful intelligence (Sternberg, 1997). The battery will be intended to meet needs of (a) individual parents concerned with their children's intellectual performance, of (b) teachers and counselors who wish to identify gifted students, and of (c) schools or school systems concerned with the task of identifying gifted children among their student body. Moreover, it is envisioned to encompass a variety of intellectual gifts manifested in a number of settings and, thus, to be sensitive to traditionally under-identified gifts of minority children and children with disabilities. Finally, the battery will be designed to incorporate both assessment and pedagogical traditions so that not only current, but also the potential levels of the child's intellectual performance can be evaluated. For more information, please email Mei Tan.

The AZ Project

The goal of the AZ project is to find a gene responsible for a risk for language difficulties. AZ represents a group of villages in northern Russia that was populated centuries ago by only a few people, and isolated from outsiders so that there was substantial intermarriage among the villages’ residents. Because of the small gene pool, the probability that a member of the much-related residents will have a shared gene is high. About half the members of this population have a language impairment to some degree – mild speech, fluency, understanding, reading or writing difficulties to nearly no language at all. Currently, we have collected behavioral data on nearly all of the 200 children under 18 and a substantial number of the adults. We have collected blood samples and developed cell lines for more than 700 of the 900 individuals at least elementary-school age, and we have cheek-swab or DNA from saliva on the preschool children and babies. Work on this project is ongoing; we continue to collect new behavioral data to characterize the language impairments, experimental data to test the parameters of and hypotheses about the language impairments, and blood and saliva samples for our DNA library. For more information, contact Dr. Natasha Rakhlin.

Reading Disabilities in Zambian Children

This project, referred to as The Bala Bbala Project (Chitonga for Read the Word), is a collaborative effort among researchers at Yale University, the Malaria Institute at Macha in Southern Province, Zambia, the University of Zambia, and the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. It is a study of the environmental and genetic risk factors for Specific Reading Disability (SRD) in Zambian children. Data collection is underway with a variety of assessments being administered to provide comprehensive information about the children’s reading and reading related skills as well as their health, home environment, school and attendance. Reading abilities are being assessed by the Zambian Achievement Test (ZAT), an assessment designed by the PACE Center and EGLab for use in multiple Zambian languages. All participants in the study will provide a saliva sample for genetic analyses. Some participants will also provide blood samples so that additional analyses can be completed. Siblings and parents will also be included in this study once the children with SRD are identified. For further information, please email Dr. Jodi Reich.

Genetic Basis of Poor Reading in Diverse Groups

This study is a joint effort led by The Florida Center for Reading Research at Florida State University (FSU) with a subcontract to EGLab to examine the genetic-risk factors for severely impaired readers across and within broadly defined ethnic groups. Traditionally, reading disability studies have focused on below average readers, but not profoundly impaired readers. Molecular genetic studies of reading also lack ethnic diversity among their participants. Consequently, FSU (led by Dr. Rick Wagner) and Yale (led by Dr. Elena Grigorenko) research teams are working to build a registry of 400 family trios of severely impaired children, which include recruitment efforts in minority populations that are underrepresented in the research. Families primarily from Florida and the Northeastern US are being recruited to participate in the study, but the collection is open to all volunteers. Behavioral data are collected through a phone-based reading and writing assessment consisting of several reading-related measures (e.g. Phonological decoding, Oral Reading Fluency). Family members also provide DNA samples that are stored for analyses at the EGLab. Our ultimate goal is to identify the genes impacting the development of severe reading impairments in a diverse sample in order to inform future research regarding the etiology, identification, and remediation of the complex disorder. Recruitment and testing are ongoing; so if you are interested please contact Thomas Skiba or (203) 785-4831 for more information

Autism Studies

Autism is a genetic disorder diagnosed during early childhood development. Symptoms present in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) include very limited social interaction, restrictive and repetitive behaviors and severe learning and language delays. The EG lab has one of the largest collections of DNA for autism genetic research in the country. With over 140 nuclear families (parents and at least one child diagnosed with an ASD), our sample size exceeds 480 subjects and continues to grow. Participants are recruited for research studies through the Developmental Disabilities Clinic which is a part of the Yale Child Study Center. We are currently analyzing data for an association study involving six candidate genes. For more information on our research interests please contact us at (203)785-4239. For more information on research and services offered by Yale Child Study Center or the Developmental Disabilities Clinic please refer to their websites linked above.

In addition, EGLab conducts studies of hyperlexia in autism (contact Elena Grigorenko) and collaborates on genetic and neuroscience studies of ASD with Dr. Flora Vaccarino and Dr. Ami Klin.

State of Connecticut Project

The Connecticut Youth Detainee Program serves a population of ~1,761 unique youth annually, with ~75% being 15 years or older (but younger than 18), 44% being African American, and 26% being Hispanic American. The average cost per bed is ~$110,700. Clearly, a successful program that decreases the percentage of recidivism and repeated detention is of great interest to federal and state authorities and tax payers. The primary objective of this study is to contribute to the relatively small body of literature on juvenile detainees and to determine the effectiveness of cognitive therapy in preparing youth for release and reentry into society. Specifically, the proposed study will evaluate the feasibility, acceptability, and effectiveness of Social Problem-Solving Training (SPST) in a sample of children and adolescents in the Connecticut Youth Detainee Program. The goal of the intervention is to reduce aggressive disruptive behavior, improve social problem-solving skills, maximize the likelihood of positive behavioral change, and improve mental-health care quality and delivery in Connecticut facilities. If the SPST intervention is proven efficacious, then future work will aim to implement this program as a regular component of services for the high-risk and highly vulnerable population of young detainees. For more information, please e-mail Donna Macomber.

Juvenile Detention Education Project

Juvenile Detention serves many functions, including continued quality education to children and adolescents during their stay apart from society. EGLab's Juvenile Detention Education Project systematically analyzes existing aspects of this unique educational process, including class demographics, in-and-out communication between detention centers and school districts, on-site educational assessments, as well as individualized curriculum planning that serves students' needs. This project aims to maximize educational benefits to student detainees, by facilitating timely receipt of educational records from a student's home school, on-site educational assessments for all students in detention who warrant them, remedial classroom instruction suited to learning needs, as well as development of a timely system that relays academic progress and performance data back to the school district upon the student's reentry into society.

Our intention is to ensure that children and adolescents in detention leave the facility with a digest of their educational record and any assessment data gathered while in detention. Once communicated to the student's destination school, this data will help ensure that a stay in detention serves not only the child or adolescent but also society in general by reinvesting the student, his/her parent or guardian and the school in a working educational partnership. We are pleased to undertake this project with the full cooperation and support of the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch, Court Support Services Division and Juvenile Detention Centers in Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven. For more information please e-mail Donna Macomber

The Etiological Bases of Giftedness: A Study in Saudi Arabia

The etiology of intellectual giftedness has been widely studied around the world but primarily in developed countries. It is widely accepted that this etiology is complex and emergenic, and that it involves a complex interplay of specific genetic and environmental forces. However, the etiology of giftedness has never been systematically studied in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In this study, the Research Center for Giftedness and Creativity at King Faisal University, in collaboration with the Child Study Center at Yale University, proposes to carry out the first investigation of the etiology of intellectual giftedness in Saudi Arabia. The overarching aim of this research is to contribute further to the understanding of the etiology of human abilities, particularly those abilities at the high end of the distribution, which we shall call intellectual giftedness. The US Project Director for this study is Mei Tan.

Substance Abuse Among Suburban Youth

This work has its roots in a 1999 study involving two samples of 10th graders - those from low-income, urban families and high-income, suburban families. Findings showed that on several fronts the wealthy children fared more poorly than did their low-income counterparts. Specifically, they reported much higher levels of cigarette, alcohol, and marijuana use as well as significantly greater anxiety; in addition, suburban girls reported startlingly high levels of depression (Luthar & D'Avanzo, 1999).

In a subsequent study, we considered whether the problems seen among wealthy 10th graders might be seen among younger children as well, and also began to explore possible causes of such distress among these apparently "privileged" youth. Our results showed that affluent sixth graders seemed to be relatively untroubled, but seventh graders did show some beginning signs of distress, again, chiefly in relation to overall substance use, anxiety, and depression among girls. Exploration of possible reasons for distress showed that two factors seemed to be implicated; one was excessive pressures to achieve, and the other was isolation (physical and emotional) from parents (Luthar & Becker, 2002).

These findings led to the initiation of a long-term follow-up study of a new cohort of about 350 suburban middle school students, whom we have assessed each year since 1999 when they were sixth graders. This project is still ongoing;

Our first comparison of these two groups of students, when they were 6th graders, was focused on aspects of family relations, and again, findings showed that the high-income students were, in fact, no more "privileged" than were their inner-city counterparts. Across various relationship dimensions wealthy suburban youth perceived their parents no more positively than did students who lived in harsh conditions of urban poverty. Furthermore, in the rich community just as in the poor one, children who felt close to their parents excelled across different domains; those who felt distant from their parents tended to be at risk for emotional as well as academic problems (Luthar & Latendresse, 2005).

Peer pressure is widely believed to have a strong effect on their development, and in our next study, we examined the degree to which wealthy and poor youth might serve as both positive and negative socializing influences (Becker & Luthar, 2004). Again, we found more similarities than differences: Early adolescents in both settings were somewhat admiring of classmates who openly flouted authority. These data will be invaluable in helping us disentangle resilience and vulnerability processes in high versus low income communities, and in suburban versus urban settings (e.g., Luthar & Ansary, 2005; Luthar & Goldstein, 2004). For more information, please e-mail Pamela Brown.

Maternal Drug Abuse, Psychopathology and Child Adaptation

This area of research is on resilience and vulnerability among children of mothers with major psychiatric disorders such as drug abuse, and depressive or anxiety disorders. This programmatic research is ongoing in New Haven, CT, and began with research on families of cocaine and heroin addicts, which revealed that 8-17 year old children of substance abusing mothers were at high risk for many problems. More specifically, almost two thirds of these children had at least one major psychiatric disorder themselves by the average age of 12 years (Luthar, Cushing, Merikangas, & Rounsaville, 1998).

In subsequent work, we considered the degree to which vulnerability might be conferred by maternal drug abuse per se and/or by depressive and anxiety disorders, which often co-exist with addiction among women. In a new study, we recruited three groups of mothers: those with histories of cocaine or heroin abuse; depression or anxiety; or neither of these sets of diagnoses. An initial exploration of a subset of approximately 200 mothers and their children in this sample showed, in fact, that maternal depression was apparently more deleterious for children than was maternal drug abuse: children of drug abusing mothers had lower rates of psychiatric disorders than did offspring of depressed mothers (Luthar, D'Avanzo, & Hites, 2003). With completion of data collection for this study - 361 mother-child dyads - we are now conducting further, in-depth analyses of relative child vulnerability as a function of maternal diagnoses.

In an extension of this study, we obtained funding to conduct follow-up assessments of this cohort of mothers and children, four and a half years after their original assessments. We reasoned that whereas drug abusers' children seemed less vulnerable than depressed mothers' children at the average age of 12 years, these differences could be reversed by middle and late adolescence - when the children could themselves begin to experiment with substances more freely. This longitudinal follow-up study is currently underway.

In addition to continuing with the various psychiatric and psychological assessments described in our earlier works (Luthar et al., 2003; 1998), another exciting new extension of this work on mother-child dyads involves the inclusion of biological indices. Specifically, we are now considering genetic factors in vulnerabilities to different disorders, as well as biological measures of stress-reactivity, as indexed, for example, by levels of the stress hormone cortisol, heart rate, and body temperature. For more information, please e-mail Pamela Brown.

GABA Study

A research team at the Yale University School of Medicine and Haskins Laboratories has been funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Development to conduct an innovative five year research project. The study will provide a better understanding of key behavioral, neurobiological, and genetic etiological factors that may be responsible for the differences between reading disabled and non-struggling readers. Additionally, the study aims to identify the biological markers of children who are predisposed to reading disabilities, which will allow for better explorations of elements of the pathways that might be most suitable for pharmacological and behavioral intervention. This longitudinal study will follow reading development over the course of two years in seven year old children of varying reading levels. At designated time points, children will be evaluated using standardized reading assessments, functional MRI imaging, and genetic testing. Reading assessments, genetic testing and neuroimaging will take place at the Yale Reading Center, and at other sites on the Yale Medical School campus in New Haven, Connecticut. The research team at Yale University will be headed by Kenneth Pugh, Ph.D., and the Haskins Laboratories research team will be headed by Stephen Frost, Ph.D. Children who participate in the study will be paid for their participation, and parents will receive reports detailing the results of standardized testing. For more information about this new project, or to enroll your child, please contact Eleanor Tejada, Yale Reading Center Coordinator, at (203) 764-6752 or visit The Yale Reading Center.