Over the past eight years we have developed a program of research to study the effects of a variety of child-focused interventions on brain development and cognition. The overarching goal of this research is to examine whether brain systems that are modifiable in special populations, such as individuals who were born blind or deaf, can also be changed in typically-developing children, through targeted interventions.

In our current research, we are working with Head Start of Lane County to deliver small-group interventions to further examine the effects of what we have found to be the most promising approach to boosting attention in preschool-aged children. Based on ERP brainwave data, cognitive assessment, and questionnaire data, we can confidently assert that our parent training program, Parents and Children Making Connections – Highlighting Attention (PCMC-A), provides large and reliable gains on children’s cognitive and brain development, and we have seen these gains maintain one and a half years after initial participation.

The research process for our Head Start families is as follows. Head Start teachers refer children and families who meet participation requirements to our program. After attending an informational meeting at a local Head Start site, families are invited to participate in the study. All participating families visit the Brain Development Lab on the U of O campus to complete initial pre-test assessments. After all testing is complete, families are randomly assigned to the intervention (PCMC-A) or a comparison group (Head Start as usual).

Families in the PCMC-A group meet for two hours, once a week, over a nine-week period. Parents in the PCMC-A group receive specific training to increase predictability in their home routines, improve communication, use discipline effectively, and encourage their children’s attention skills. During PCMC-A meetings, child participants meet in an adjoining classroom where they take part in fun activities to boost attention and self-regulation skills with a focus on brain awareness, and emotional communication.

Families who are randomly assigned to the comparison group attend Head Start as usual during the nine-week period and do not receive any additional classes outside of the regular Head Start curriculum. At the end of the nine-week period, all families (PCMC-A and Head Start as usual) return to the Brain Development Lab to complete a second round of assessments.

As part of our ongoing longitudinal project, all participants are invited back each year to complete additional assessments to monitor cognitive development throughout the elementary school years.

This research is funded by the NIH/NIDCD (2007-2012) and the U.S. Dept. of Education (2007-2011) (2011- 2014).