Head of laboratory
The ability to understand emotion in others is essential for the healthy development of all people. It guides response and decision making to social cues (e.g. aggression) and enhances capacity to develop social bonds and to nurture. Abnormalities of emotion perception may contribute to psychiatric disorders associated with social problems such as autism, schizophrenia, fragile x syndrome, and psychopathy. There has been an enormous increase in community awareness of autism, and Professor Einfeld has played a substantial role in supporting scientifically based understanding of autism and other developmental disorders in childhood.
Autism is the prototype disorder of social dysfunction. One of the key impairments is an inability to respond appropriately to social cues, and advances in social neuroscience have identified the neuropeptide oxytocin as playing a key role in social behavior. This ancient mammalian peptide enhances peer recognition, social approach, and bonding behavior across numerous species. This has led some to speculate its use for the treatment of psychiatric disorders characterised by social deficit.
Professor Einfeld’s team investigate the effect of oxytocin administration on emotion recognition for young people with autism spectrum disorders. Oxytocin nasal spray may lead to a brief, safe, and effective intervention to remedy emotion recognition deficits. Improvements in core symptoms, particularly if addressed early in life, may result in better outcomes for children with autism.
Australian Child to Adult Development (ACAD) study
Einfeld and his team are continuing to work on the Australian Child to Adult Development (ACAD) study. Drawing on the now 20-year-old longitudinal study, they are considering the protective and risk factors in the evolution of emotional and behavioural problems in young people with intellectual disabilities.
The study is being run in collaboration with academics from Monash University as well as the University of Sydney, and its broad aim is to determine what biological, psychological and social characteristics help lead to such problems and which can guard against them.
Visit the ACAD website, www.med.monash.edu.au/spppm/research/devpsych/acad.html
Learn more about the Developmental Behaviour Checklist (DBC), visit www.med.monash.edu.au/spppm/research/devpsych/dbc.html