Charles Nelson, III
Professor of Education
Professor of Pediatrics
Professor in the Department of Society, Human, Development and Health
Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry
Professor Nelson's research interests are broadly concerned with developmental cognitive neuroscience, an interdisciplinary field concerned with the intersection of brain and cognitive development. His specific interests are concerned with the effects of early experience on brain and behavioral development, particularly the effects of early biological insults and early psychosocial adversity. Nelson studies both typically developing children and children at risk for neurodevelopmental disorders (particularly autism), and he employs behavioral, electrophysiological (ERP), and metabolic (fNIRS and MRI) tools in his research. Over and above his domestic research program, Nelson also works in a variety of low resource countries.
Neural Correlates of Imitation in Children with Autism and their Unaffected Siblings (2013-2015)
Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) experience a range of social deficits that are heterogeneous and multidimensional both in their genetic underpinnings and in their phenotypic expression. Perhaps for this reason, the etiology of ASD is not well defined and the combinations of environmental and genetic factors that protect against or increase risk of developing autism are not well understood. Endophenotypes of ASD at the neural systems level may offer insight into the pathophysiology and psychopathology of ASD by indicating components of complex social behaviors that lie closer to specific genetic factors that confer ASD risk. This investigation focuses on the neural correlates of imitation a social function impaired in ASD in 4 to 6 year old unaffected siblings of children with ASD (US), children with ASD (ASD), age-matched typically developing peers (TD), as well as typically-developing children matched with ASD children on cognitive measures (TD-COG). In studying the neural activity and behavior of unaffected siblings of children with ASD on an imitation task, the goal is to identify and investigate neural and behavioral biomarkers of immediate clinical utility in the earlier diagnosis and prediction of ASD outcomes, as well as facilitate the design of more targeted and potentially effective interventions to increase the social functioning and improve the outcomes of children at risk for ASD.