Individuals holding dog near computer and workspace.

Why every day should be take your dog to work day

CMU professor's research makes case for canines' impact on group dynamics

June 5, 2017

When it comes to the workplace, there's blue collar, white collar and now, maybe, flea collar.

Research shows having a companion dog present during group meetings could improve employee emotions, enhancing communication and cooperation, according to Central Michigan University psychology professor Stephen Colarelli.

Such news is perfect timing for National Take Your Dog to Work Day, which this year is Friday, June 23.

While previous studies show how dogs improve brief social encounters between two people, Colarelli and his research team studied the canine influence on group interactions. The end results, in the 2017 issue of Anthrozoös research journal, suggest workplaces could benefit from having a dog handy.

"Dogs are a social lubricant," Colarelli said. "When work teams are first formed, it often takes a while for people to get comfortable with each other, but having a dog in the room seems to put people more at ease."

Colarelli and his team of undergraduate and graduate research assistants spent two years collecting the data on how a standard poodle, Jack Russell terrier and mixed-breed dog could influence the way groups of four people interacted with each other. Two separate studies focused on problem-solving and decision-making tasks, and a third study examined a companion dog's effect on emotions expressed within individual groups.

All three studies found group members were noticeably more friendly and positive through making eye contact, leaning toward each other, and increasing senses of trust and cooperation.

"Most workplaces of today are increasingly high-stress environments, and the results of this research indicated how companion dogs can influence prosocial behaviors," Colarelli said.

The research was conducted with recruited subjects in an on-campus test laboratory. Colarelli said it will be interesting to pursue similar research in an actual workplace —one that uses dogs as well as other animals.

"Some people may say the groups were more at ease because of the novelty of having an animal of any kind present," he said. "I'd like to test this using other animals, but we chose the dog because dogs are intuitively more connected to humans.

"Dogs were the first animal to be domesticated, and a dog is the only animal that follows a human gaze," he said.

CMU autism center and athletics create Chippewas TOPSoccer

Teaming up for autism and special needs

CMU autism center and athletics create Chippewas TOPSoccer

Melissa Tuttle, director of autism assessment in Central Michigan University's Central Autism Assessment and Treatment Center, knew CMU women's soccer coach Peter McGahey could help her level the playing field for children with autism and special needs.

McGahey is active in the Midland Soccer Club's TOPSoccer — a national program that's inclusive for children 5- to 14-years-old regardless of disability — and together Tuttle and McGahey launched Chippewas TOPSoccer.

"TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer) provides a safe space for children with autism to be successful at fun, recreational activities and provides them with a place to develop relationships with others, practice social skills, and continue developing motor and leisure skills," Tuttle said. "It also demonstrates a commitment to making the community a more inclusive place — one where all persons have opportunities and are valued."

The program is free for all players and is coordinated through a partnership with CMU women's soccer, Central Autism Assessment and Treatment Center, and the Midland Soccer Club.

Tuttle, a 2016 CMU graduate of the school psychology doctoral program, first learned of TOPSoccer through previous work in Omaha, Nebraska. But it regularly has been a part of McGahey and his family's life for many years.

"This is a way to give back to the communities where we live and to the game that has given me so much," said McGahey, who this fall will enter his fifth season as CMU's head soccer coach. "TOPSoccer focuses on encouragement and offers opportunities to participate in soccer at the ability level of each athlete."

Through this partnership, McGahey and Tuttle established an internship to provide professional development opportunities for an interested student who will help the program grow and ensure its longevity. Kaylin Hoomaian, a senior exercise science major from Novi, Michigan, served as the first TOPSoccer intern.

In addition to behind-the-scenes coordination and organization, Hoomaian also interacted and played soccer with the children at their respective skill levels.

"It is so cool to see the athletes' confidence grow from one week to the next, as well as their pure enjoyment for the game," said Hoomaian, a member of the CMU soccer team and two-time Academic All-Mid-American Conference selection. "It opens the door to not only learn the fundamentals of soccer, but also to experience teamwork and just have fun! It makes my day being able to smile, laugh and enjoy soccer with them."

The spring TOPSoccer program that started April 3 will conclude May 1, and plans are underway to host it again this fall and in spring 2018.

TOPSoccer is one of many programs and resources CMU offers to help with diagnosing, treating and living with autism spectrum disorder. In addition to the Central Autism Assessment and Treatment Center, other resources include:


Visualizing a bigger personal space

CMU students researching effects of meditation on personal space perceptions

March 13, 2017

Undergraduate students at Central Michigan University are investigating whether meditation can help people change their perceived personal space.

The research has the potential to help people overcome conditions such as claustrophobia and social anxieties as well as improve athletic performance. Nathan Houle, a sophomore psychology major and religion minor from Midland, Michigan, and Jessica LaLone, a senior psychology and Spanish major from Auburn Hills, are co-leading the research project.

"A lot of the meditation I've worked with manipulates the sense of the body in space," Houle said. "With the meditation, we focus our attention on people's visualization, and there isn't a lot of research being done in this area."

The student research team is working under the direction of experimental psychology faculty members Emily Bloesch and Chris Davoli. Students conduct their research using a pool of participants who are tested on their relation to objects in front of them and then are retested on the same objects following several meditation sessions.

"Whenever I meditate I know my perception shifts in many ways, so learning specifics about this interested me," LaLone said. "This research is beneficial for many reasons; however, the reason that excites me the most is that we could discover if meditation helps us expand both the mental and physical space around us."

Project development began in October, and pilot testing started in February. Members of the research team hope to test at least 60 students this semester, said researcher Valencia Smith, a senior psychology major and family studies minor from Detroit.

"It's going to take some time to pull the information together and analyze it, but we are very encouraged by what we're seeing initially," she said.

Sense of place influences state of being

As faculty members and researchers, Bloesch and Davoli concentrate on the recently developed concept of "embodied cognition," which theorizes that people's cognition goes beyond the brain and is shaped by people's positioning in space.

The brain is responsible for motor skills and reacting to outside influences, but how people understand and respond to situations is directly connected to the physical capacity of their bodies, Bloesch said. For example, people judge hills to be steeper when they're wearing a heavy backpack because it would take more effort to climb to the top.

"The brain isn't out there on its own — it's set in the body, which is the only way we can navigate the environment," she said. "What we do with our body changes the way we see the world."

Davoli and Bloesch had presented to the students the broad idea of studying meditation and body space, based on recent findings showing the relationship between meditation and other forms of cognition. The idea for researching the impact meditation has on people's visualization of the space around them was entirely developed by the students, Davoli said.

A couple of the students came to them with the idea to compare the effect of different types of meditation on body space and introduced them to the meditation app and website that helps to provide meditative insights for the research.

"This is a project that the students built from the ground up," he said. "The students connected with Headspace administrators, and through our relationship with the organization, we get experimental control and ecological validity for the research."

Learning conflict resolution — in prison

CMU students learn alongside men in Saginaw Regional Correctional Facility
March 29, 2017

Jac Ewasyshyn said she was incredibly intimidated the first time she saw the housing unit at Saginaw Regional Correctional Facility. Some of the men are serving life sentences, but preconceived perspectives shifted for the Central Michigan University senior the moment she interacted with one of them.

Ewasyshyn saw him as a person and not as a criminal.

"We can't make criminal behavior go away overnight, but you can't fix the problem until you understand it," said Ewasyshyn, a psychology major from Harrison Township, Michigan.

Ewasyshyn and her 14 fellow honors students are taking an eight-week service-learning and conflict resolution class alongside men who are incarcerated in the Freeland, Michigan, prison. CMU communication professors Shelly Hinck and Ed Hinck co-teach the course that studies how communities create, sustain and transform conceptions of topics such as crime, guilt, innocence and justice from a communications perspective.

"When you give students the opportunity to interact with the individuals that the organization you're working with is serving, it really has the potential to be transformative," said Shelly Hinck. "The students and the men who are incarcerated both are learning this material together. They're engaging as co-learners in the process."

In addition to visiting the correctional facility, CMU students attend on-campus class sessions to begin deconstructing their understanding of what a prison is (there to punish), who is housed in the prison (stereotypes of what it means to be a prisoner) and the perceived fairness of our justice system. They read articles about the prison industrial complex, the role of race in the criminal justice systems and the need for educational programming that rehabilitates rather than punishes.

"While the conflict resolution class is important in helping the men who are incarcerated address and think about their conflict skills, the on-campus class is just as important for our students because it serves as a way to understand the experience in the prison," Shelly Hinck said.

The Hincks have worked with four correctional facilities in Michigan and one in Kansas since 1996 to engage undergraduate and graduate students in the scholarship of service learning. Through these collaborative efforts, more than 240 students have served 277 inmates over the course of 10 different classes.

When conflict management becomes contagious

Ed Hinck said in some ways, the academic portion of the class he is responsible for this semester is like a deconstruction of who is incarcerated. Working with men serving life sentences is important because they generally are the Department of Corrections' lowest priority for programming. He said learning about conflict resolution also can lead to inmates serving shorter sentences.

"By helping to teach men in prison about conflict resolution and mentorship, we’re not just putting a Band-Aid on the problem, we're actually taking tiny steps to help solve it."​

 Andrea Buckley, Saginaw senior

"The lifers, who don't want the younger men to make the same mistakes that they made, are trying to have a positive influence on the younger inmates," he said. "They are very much interested in conflict management skills to hopefully teach other inmates about conflict management to help them when they get out."

This is the second time the Hincks have facilitated the service-learning partnership between the CMU Honors Program and the Saginaw Regional Correctional Facility. Students Andrea Buckley and Dyese Matthews both enrolled in the first offering and now are serving as course teaching assistants to help lead and mentor the honors students as well as the men who are incarcerated.

"I'm here because of the mentors and influences in my life, and I hope to be a positive influence in the lives of people who need encouragement," said Buckley, a senior from Saginaw, Michigan, majoring in social work. "By helping to teach men in prison about conflict resolution and mentorship, we're not just putting a Band-Aid on the problem, we're actually taking tiny steps to help solve it."

Matthews, a junior from Chicago, Illinois, said she is encouraged to see the transformation of the CMU students when they realize the impact this experience is having on the men in the correctional facility and themselves.

"I remember what it was like last year, so it's interesting to see the students' reactions when they go to the prison for the first time," said Matthews, a fashion merchandising and design major. "Then, after going to the prison for a second time, they already are seeing the work that can be done to improve the lives of the men in prison and to address the problems that lead people to commit crimes."

CMU psychology professor Larissa Niec serves as director of the Center for Children, Families and Communities.

Improving foster care starts with the family

CMU center partners with Chicago-based organization to strengthen parent-child relationships
March 7, 2017

Nearly 428,000 children in the United States are living in foster care, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families.

To help maximize the foster family experience, trainers and researchers from Central Michigan University's Center for Children, Families and Communities are working with Chicago-based organization Safe Families for Children to evaluate and implement a program that will develop stronger relationships between foster children and foster parents.

"If there's one thing you can do to help a child, it is to help build the parent and child relationship," said CMU psychology professor and CCFC director Larissa Niec. "Strengthening such relationships protects the child on so many levels."

The CCFC works to improve the well-being of children and families through research and mental health interventions, and Safe Families for Children is an alternative foster care agency where children are brought in by their biological parents who are experiencing challenging economic times and need assistance in keeping their children safe.

The two organizations are working together to facilitate, teach and measure the effectiveness of intervention techniques used within foster families. This will broaden the impact of the Parent-Child Interaction Therapy currently used within the CCFC, said Niec, who is one of only 20 professionals worldwide certified as a PCIT Master Trainer to provide expert PCIT training and consultation.

Through two daylong workshops in October and January, Niec and her team of CMU students trained approximately 50 host parents on incorporating innovative intervention strategies into the relationships with the children temporarily under their care. In addition to training the host parents, the goal of this project is to empower them to help train the biological parents in order to have a long-term impact on the children's well-being, Niec said.

"We're developing new ways to reach families more effectively," she said, explaining her team has created in-person and online training programs.

Students learn while strengthening the foster care system

Among the CMU trainers and researchers was Irene Brodd, a first-year clinical psychology doctoral student who served as a coach in the training sessions. She said such opportunities are why she chose to pursue her doctorate at CMU.

"Being able to get to the training sooner is a unique thing to do as a first-year doctoral student," said Brodd, who earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees at universities in California. "In addition to the training, I get to learn from the older students and then help the students who are developing their skills."

Brodd now is working with graduate and undergraduate students, such as Southfield senior Sydney Tappin, to review and evaluate the data collected in Chicago and determine which intervention strategies are most beneficial. Tappin is majoring in psychology and child development, and she echoed Brodd's appreciation for opportunities to learn from other students and see the impacts of various therapy programs through her work at the CCFC.

"This is part of my internship for child development, and I'm so much more equipped for my own career," said Tappin, who hopes to have her own practice and work to improve the lives of children. "There definitely are ways to get involved here at CMU, but you have to be active and put yourself in those situations."

Niec said the collaboration with Safe Families for Children — located in 70 cities in the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada and other countries — advances the CCFC's goal to improve the well-being of children and families worldwide. The CCFC already has working relationships with related centers in countries such as Germany, France and the Netherlands.

Michael Palmer

Detecting autism earlier

CMU students part of $2.2 million effort to train professionals in diagnosis and treatment

February 13, 2017

Two Central Michigan University doctoral students are taking steps to encourage early detection, diagnosis and treatment of autism and other disabilities with the help of a grant that pulls together professionals from many disciplines. Autism spectrum disorder is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the U.S., affecting approximately one in 68 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hannah Borton, a second-year audiology student from Coshocton, Ohio, and Mike Palmer, a fifth-year applied experimental psychology student from Alma, Michigan, are among the nine-member cohort of statewide students participating in training that encourages collaboration between medical professionals in identifying and treating such conditions.

"The earlier you can diagnose the condition, the sooner you can start treating it," Borton said. "This is why we want to work with people from other disciplines so we can help each other determine the diagnosis as quickly and accurately as possible."

The training is provided through a $2.2 million, five-year grant awarded by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration for the Michigan-Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Other Related Disabilities Training Program, or MI-LEND. It addresses the complex needs of individuals with autism and other disabilities by increasing the training of medical, doctoral and postdoctoral students to identify the conditions and determine treatment options.

"This is a great opportunity for CMU to integrate training services and expand to new areas," said Carl Johnson, the experimental psychology professor who helped secure a place for CMU in the grant. "There are a lot of treatments for autism; we just want to get the children diagnosed sooner so we can make their lives better."

Through a series of weekly webinars and monthly in-person training sessions, MI-LEND participants share their clinical experiences and provide respective insights to collaborate in recommending disease diagnoses and treatment options. As they move forward with their training, Palmer works closely with his mentor, CMU psychology faculty member Christie Nutkins, and Borton collaborates with her mentor, audiology faculty member Carissa Moeggenberg.

CMU already is actively working through its programs and special centers to train students to diagnose and treat autism and related disorders. As an audiology student, Borton sees and helps treat patients through CMU's Carls Center. Similarly, Palmer sees and helps treat patients through CMU's Central Autism Assessment and Treatment Center.

Palmer said learning to collaborate across various disciplines is helping him to view patient conditions beyond the perspective of a psychologist, which in turn provides more comprehensive treatment options for his patients.

"That kind of collaboration can help each professional provide better services, but also can make the individuals receiving the services feel like they are receiving a cohesive treatment rather than one professional telling them one thing and the next something else," Palmer said. "At the very minimum, this kind of training allows us as service providers to be able to let the people we serve know that those other services are out there and what they could do for them."

Other participating universities are Wayne State University, Michigan State University, University of Michigan–Ann Arbor, University of Michigan–Dearborn and Western Michigan University. This is the first LEND-related grant Michigan has received, Johnson said. 

Children use laptop computer to move parts on a Lego project.

La​b takes on toddlers' and teens' screen time

Research investigates impact electronic devices have on child health and development

December 8, 2016
​Research shows the time each day that adolescents spend looking at a screen — everything from computers to smart phones, tablets and televisions — is nearly equivalent to a full-time job.

For an average of seven hours, they're capturing information that communicates, distracts, educates and entertains, and one Central Michigan University clinical psychology faculty member is looking into how this impacts adolescent health and development.

Sarah Domoff is director of CMU's newly established Family Health Research Lab. The lab is engaged in projects focused on healthy media use and obesity prevention in adolescents and young children.

"Technology and digital media use isn't going away, and we have to be concerned about what it means for the health and development of children," she said. "We have to look into what can be negative about it, but we also need to look at how we can leverage the use of it to enhance and improve the lives and well-being of children. A lot of this research also has implications for how parents can be involved."

Work conducted at CMU's Family Health Research Lab is done through a collaboration with the University of Michigan’s Center for Human Growth and Development and Momentum Center. This partnership was established through Domoff, who recently completed her postdoctoral training at the University of Michigan and is completing related projects.

Current research involves five CMU students who soon will begin analyzing videos of families eating dinner in their home in order to investigate mealtime media use in families with children at different stages of development — toddlers, preschoolers and early adolescents — and testing whether screen use predicts obesity and other health outcomes across development. Students are measuring the amount of screen time as well as the types of interactions parents have with their children during the meals.

Rachel Gerrie is a sophomore psychology major from Atlanta, Michigan, who was interested in the research because it involves children. Seeing how media use and social networking has taken hold of children as young as two, she said it is important to determine the effect this has on child development and interaction with the people in their lives.

"I have been surprised to see that with the mobile device use and social media networking exploding over the past year, there is not a substantial amoun​t of evidence and/or data exhibiting exactly how media may affect child-parent relationships, co-parenting, obesity and various other areas," Gerrie said. "There is a lot of progress to be made in this area."

In addition to examining the health outcomes of children's media use, current Family Health Research Lab projects include:

  • The Problematic Media Use Measure, which psychologists and pediatricians will use to screen for excessive or addictive media use in children; and
  • Evidence-based practices that promote effective media parenting.
"I believe that today's parents and their children face unique challenges," said Jacob White, a fourth-year clinical psychology doctoral student and graduate assistant from Shelby, Michigan. "This research with youth and media represents a growing area of concern for parents and the results may inform the field about how parents should monitor media use."​

Hand placement critical to learning and concentration.

Research by Christopher Davoli shows hand placement critical to learning and concentration​

Psychology faculty member Christopher Davoli uncovers new factors in learning, perception and attention

November 30, 2015

​Century-old beliefs have led most of us to think that caffeine or taking a break from information and returning to it later are the best or only strategies to improve a person's focus, learning, or how they view the world and objects around them. New research, however, sheds light on how hand placement also is part of the equation.

Christopher Davoli, assistant professor of psychology at Central Michigan University, and Philip Tseng, an associate professor at Taipei Medical University, coordinated the global research, published in the peer-reviewed journal, Frontiers in Psychology, and as an e-book. The researchers found how we view and perceive objects around us, remember information, focus our attention or shift attention from one topic to the next can be traced directly to the placement of our hands.​

The findings have practical implications for a broad range of environments and situations, including workplace efficiency, education, attention deficit interventions, building design and consumer product development.

"The key is identifying your end goal. If your goal is to find a creative solution or understand complex information, there is likely a posture and hand placement to match any need or situation," he said.

More information is being driven into our hands than ever before – from e-books to mobile devices – to improve efficiency and learning in an increasingly fast-paced world. Having information quite literally at our fingertips may not always be beneficial to effective learning, concentration and our ability to be flexible in our thought processes.

"Reading a story on a tablet device may make a person more likely to concentrate and retain details, but less likely to think about the bigger picture or message in what they are reading. A story read on a computer screen further from a person's hands will be processed differently, and it will be easier to think bigger; however, the mind also may be more likely to wander to other topics or objects," Davoli said.

Davoli said the research is a significant stride forward in understanding the use of hands-on learning, but more work is needed to solidify specific solutions for consumer products, schools, workplaces and homes.

"Now that this research exists, we can begin to apply it to real world situations to improve the way we create products, communicate information and improve productivity," Davoli said.

Davoli and Tseng coordinated experts from around the world to gather research, review results, and analyze the common effects of body posture and hand placement on a person's attention and cognition. In total, the call for research generated 12 peer-reviewed articles by 34 experts spanning 23 institutions in countries including Germany, England, China and Canada. The studies allowed researchers to observe the effects of hand placement and posture on subjects in a variety of laboratory settings that mimicked real-world scenarios, including cutting food, using a mobile device and working with another person to complete a puzzle. ​​


Gary Dunbar named Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year

Gary Dunbar named Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year

April​ 10, 2015

Central Michigan University neuroscience professor Gary Dunbar's passion for teaching and mentoring has transformed the lives of hundreds of students throughout his 33-year career at CMU, all while ­guiding CMU's neuroscience program to national prominence.

On this foundation, Dunbar has earned recognition as 2015 Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year, sponsored by the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan.

Dunbar, a CMU alumnus, is a nationally recognized leader in neuroscience education. He developed and has nurtured CMU's undergraduate neuroscience program, leading it to be named the country's top program in 2013.

 Dunbar has attained national recognition for his program of student-centered research and actively garners experiential learning opportunities for his students. Working alongside him, Dunbar's students have conducted hands-on research, primarily using stem cells, that has resulted in significant findings related to the stroke, as well as diseases such as Alzheimer's and Huntington's.

 "Dunbar's passion for developing strong, independent thinkers is evidenced in the way he structures his classes and his research laboratory and also in the leaders who have emerged from his mentorship," CMU Provost Michael Gealt said. " All of the students who have the opportunity to work with Dunbar comment on his commitment, the amount of time he devotes to them and his accessibility."​

To Dunbar, this award is very special.

"This award recognizes what attracted me to this profession, which is to help provide a nurturing learning environment for undergraduates," Dunbar said. 

One example of Dunbar's life-changing influence is the story of CMU alumnus Charles Weaver. As an undergraduate student at CMU, Weaver was struggling as a student and as an athlete on CMU's baseball team. Dunbar encouraged Weaver to keep working in his lab. That encouragement, along with the experience in the lab, helped Weaver to not only graduate but also go on and get his doctorate in neuroscience. He currently teaches at Saginaw Valley State University. Hear​ more about Weaver's story in the video below.

"I was fortunate to have many role models and outstanding mentors throughout my life," Dunbar said. "However, it is during the undergraduate years when many students, including me, have the greatest need for the care, empathy and guidance that will help them set the courses of their lives."

The Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year award program recognizes the outstanding contributions made by faculty from Michigan's public universities to the education of undergraduate students. Each of Michigan's 15 public universities were invited by the Presidents Council to nominate a faculty member who has had a significant impact on student learning through various media, including teaching excellence and student advising.

Dunbar is one of three in the state to receive the award. He and the other awardees were recognized during a ceremony April 10th at the Lansing Convention Center.

CHARGE Lab researchers

Psychology students, professor study rare genetic disorder in CHARGE Syndrome Research Lab

November 19, 2014
By Lexi Carter, CM Life

When Tim Hartshorne’s son Jacob was born, he was different than the rest of the infants delivered that day.​ Jacob was one of 15,000 births to carry a rare genetic disease caused by the mutation of a specific gene, commonly known as CHARGE syndrome.​ 

In CHARGE, the C stands for coloboma, which results in a missing piece in the eye. H stands for heart defect. A is for atresia of the choanae, which means that the openings in the back of the nose that allow air to pass are blocked. The R is for retarded growth or development. G is for genital hypoplasia and the E is for ear malformations.

“The interesting thing about CHARGE is that the kids vary in  the extent of which they are affected by the different anomalies,” Hartshorne said. “I think the most important things about it are the multi-sensory impairments. They have lots and lots of different kinds of sensory issues which makes it very very challenging.”

The sensory impairments include visual impairments, an impaired sense of smell and balance problems because the mechanism that controls balance in the inner ear is malformed.

Hartshorne first decided to focus his research on CHARGE in the mid '90s. When the lab was created, there were only one or two students. Now the lab has grown to have seven active members, both graduate and undergraduate students.

Each student in the lab has a research project they are working in that focuses on some aspect of CHARGE syndrome. The meetings in the lab are directed towards keeping people on task with their projects and seeing if anyone needs assistance.

 “I try to put people into their own projects," Hartshorne said. "It’s a little exhausting for me because I’m supervising lots of projects, but it’s really nice because it give people a sense of identity when they’re in the lab that they are important and what they’re doing is significant.”

CMU steps up

The lab is essential for students when applying for graduate school and is equally important for graduate students who need research and dissertations.

Students get to become an expert in something that not many people know about.

“These guys know more about CHARGE syndrome than some of the professionals in the area of CHARGE syndrome,” Hartshorne said. “They get out there and they get recognized.”

Megan Schmittel, a graduate student in the school of psychology from Warrenton, Mo., said the lab is extremely beneficial in terms of research and gathering ideas for topics and how to conduct them. Traveling is also a regular occurrence when students are a part of the CHARGE lab.

“Being able to bounce ideas off of Tim and your peers is really helpful in that respect. I get social aspects from it because we do have a lot of fun,” Schmittel said. “Being able to travel, meet people around the world, learn different things from different people and spread out and connect with other professionals is great. There are a lot of really amazing opportunities.”

Schmittel is researching the development of social play in kids with CHARGE syndrome and how it could possibly hinder their ability to develop social skills.

“I want to see if social skills develops differently in kids with charge and how that affects their behavior and their self-regulation, because we do see some behavior problems and some social issues in kids with CHARGE,” Schmittel said “I’m kind of wondering if there is a connection between if they have delayed social play, if that’s affecting social skills because play is important in the development of those skills”

Rachel Malta, a graduate student in the school of psychology from Roseville, is planning on working in school systems and hopes that the lab will help her work not only with children with CHARGE, but others as well.

“It’s really great for me to be able to learn about a specific population of students and how best I can support them in the school,” Malta said. “It’s also not just for CHARGE students, because a lot of these characteristics aren’t just for kids with CHARGE, but with deaf or blindness. I could encounter kids that have that in general, and it really helps me learn how best I can address this in the schools.”

When working with kids with CHARGE, Schmittel said it is important to focus on the child and their individualities.

“You really have to look at the child in terms of how you’re going to intervene with them, and you can't just have this kind of catch all intervention,” Schmittel said. “That taught me when I’m working with any child I need to look at the kid as a person. I need to figure out who they are as a person and what kind of challenges they’re facing instead of just changing them.”

Today, Hartshorne’s son is 25 years old and on the low functioning end of CHARGE syndrome.

“It’s the best thing that ever happened to me. He made my career,” Hartshorne said. “Because of Jacob I travel the world. I’m an international expert on something. It’s just wonderful. I thank him all the time. Not everybody does research because of personal interest or personal investment.” 

>>View article on CM Life website

CMU opens new center to provide autism assessment, treatment & training.

New CMU center to provide autism assessment, treatment and training

October 30, 2014

A new center at Central Michigan University will help tackle Autism Spectrum Disorder. ASD is the fastest growing developmental disability in the U.S., affecting approximately one in 68 children according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Central Autism Assessment and Treatment Clinic will provide diagnosis and treatment to children and adolescents in central and northern Michigan. The new center is one of only eight of its kind in Michigan, and one of only two that train professionals in diagnosis and treatment.

The center, which opened this week with financial support from the Michigan Department of Community Health, is addressing priority needs in Michigan by decreasing the wait time for a diagnosis and for receiving applied behavior analysis therapy.

“With an increase in ASD referrals, we need more practitioners who have specific training in this area to promote accurate diagnosis,” said center director Christie Nutkins. “We can help one child at a time but we can impact many more people by training CMU students on how to accurately diagnose this growing disability.”

For those visiting the new clinic, a comprehensive multi-disciplinary assessment is completed in order to reach a diagnosis. The assessment includes interviews with parents and/or caregivers, speech and language evaluation, a full psychological battery test; and a medical examination by a CMU College of Medicine pediatrician.

According to the CDC, it is estimated to cost at least $17,000 more per year to care for a child with ASD compared to a child without ASD.

“The diagnosis portion is very important as a diagnosis is needed for insurance companies to cover treatment,” said Nutkins.

Following diagnosis, patients will be treated at the center through applied behavior analysis. Graduate and undergraduate students will be involved to assist in treatment.

“Intensive intervention makes a difference,” said psychology faculty member and board certified behavioral analyst Deborah Grossett. “We’ll do whatever we can to help children learn their best and teach them to be more independent.”

Autism spectrum disorder can cause significan​t social, communication and behavior challenges. Symptoms often emerge between two and three years of age. The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends children be screened for ASD at the ages of 18 and 36 months. A diagnosis at a young age can improve the opportunities for early interventions. 

​Additional media stories

9&10 News, 11/4/2014
CMU welcomes new ​autism clini​c

UpNorth​ Live, 11/4/2014
Central Michigan University launches first northern Michigan autism clinic


​​ Daniele Ruscio in the CMU DEER Center.

​CMU driving center joins forces with Italian university to make roads safer

​September 29, 2014

Two universities whose campuses are more than 4,000 miles apart have come together with a goal of making roads safer around the world.

Central Michigan University and Cattolica University in Milan, Italy, conduct similar traffic psychology research. Using driving simulators and other technology, researchers assess cognitive fitness to drive and conduct research on attention and driving in older adults and in persons with attention, neurological or developmental disorders. 

CMU's research is conducted in the Center for Driving Evaluation, Education and Research in Anspach Hall.

“Our labs have very complementary interests,” said Rick Backs, director of the DEER Center. With CMU in a rural location and Cattolica in an urban location we hope to be able to do research together on rehabilitation and training of vulnerable driver populations that neither of us could do on our own.”

The relationship has recently gained ground with the first exchange between the two institutions. Daniele Ruscio from Cattolica began a one-year term this fall as a postdoctoral faculty member in CMU’s DEER Center. He specializes in traffic and transportation psychology, including how visual attention, emotional regulation and decision-making processes can be trained to prevent road accidents.

“Dr. Ruscio's visit is just the first of what we hope will be ongoing faculty and student exchanges between our labs,” said Backs.

The DEER Center aims to provide clinical services that evaluate cognitive fitness to drive, education to improve driver safety and research on driver’s safety.

Since his arrival in Mount Pleasant, Ruscio has spent much of his time understanding how the DEER Center equipment and software work. He noted many similarities between the two institutions, but also many differences.

“The lab I study at in Italy is primarily research focused, but this center intrigues me as it also offers evaluation and research that help the local community,” said Ruscio.

Maria Ciceri, scientific head of the traffic psychology unit at Cattolica, and Federica Biassoni, a postdoctoral faculty member at Cattolica, visited CMU Sept. 23 through 25 to tour the DEER Center and learn more about CMU’s research. Backs also will visit Cattolica University later this fall to help further strengthen the relationship.

Learn more about the DEER Center here​.​

Faculty from Cattolica U

CMU student researchers study complex genetic disorder

CMU lab provides critical insight into CHARGE syndrome

June 10, 2014

Over the past 10 years, a CMU faculty member and his students have helped the world better understand a relatively rare disorder through research and hands-on interaction.

Central Michigan University houses the only CHARGE syndrome research lab​ in the nation that focuses solely on the complex genetic disorder and its behavioral implications.

“CHARGE syndrome is an extremely complicated condition, and parents are faced with so many surgeries, hospitalizations and doctor visits that it is easy to forget the individual and get caught up in all the ‘medical stuff,’” said David Wolfe, president of the CHARGE Syndrome Foundation. “In the process, the behavioral and psychological components, which in many ways are the most complex portion of the syndrome, are put on the back burner. It is in this critical area that CMU has excelled.”

Psychology professor Tim Hartshorne began researching behavioral issues in those with the syndrome in 1999 and established the CMU CHARGE lab in 2004. In the past 10 years, 22 students have conducted research projects in the lab and interacted with children and families impacted by the syndrome.

“CMU is a leader in trying to develop a better understanding of some of the behaviors that are often associated with CHARGE syndrome,” Wolfe said. “A better understanding always leads to better treatment and strategies.”  

CHARGE syndrome occurs in about one in every 10,000 births worldwide and can cause deafness, blindness, heart defects, growth and development issues, and physical anomalies, according to the CHARGE Syndrome Foundation.

Hartshorne said he is impressed with his students’ enthusiasm for the research and opportunities to work with the children and families.

“The students who work or have worked in CMU’s CHARGE lab have learned a tremendous amount about this relatively rare genetic disorder so that they are actually experts,” Hartshorne said.

Hartshorne and his students have published 30 studies from their research on CHARGE. These studies have explored autistic-like and challenging behavior in CHARGE syndrome, executive function and much more. Families of those affected by CHARGE also benefit directly from these studies as Hartshorne and his students travel to present their research at conferences through the U.S. and around the world.

Current research taking place in the CHARGE Lab includes the development of play in children with CHARGE syndrome, Tai Chi as an intervention for issues, headaches in children with the syndrome and communication systems in CHARGE.​

Neuroscience student wins CMU Provost's Award

April 16, 2014

Neuroscience major Rebecca Culver (third from left) received the CMU Provost's Award during the annual Student Research and Creative Endeavors Exhibition in April. She is exploring a novel way in which dopaminergic neurons can be generated from stem cells. This research may provide a more efficient way to treat Parkinson's disease. 

CMU neuroscience professor Gary Dunbar notes that Rebecca's work has been part of several published manuscripts from the neuroscience lab. She's also presented her work at the Society for Neuroscience national meetings during the past two years, and at the Michigan Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience meetings during the past three years.

Larissa Niec wins CMU President's Award

March 5, 2014

​Psychology professor Larissa Niec is recipient of the 2014 CMU President's Award. Niec is an internationally recognized researcher, a licensed psychologist and one of only 16 Parent-Child Interaction Therapy Master Trainers worldwide. 

She received her award during the 2014 Faculty Excellence Exhibition March 19th in the Park Library Auditorium. 

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