Wednesday, 7 September 2011

BPS conference highlights

I am quite a faithful follower of the British Psychological Society (BPS) and their various efforts related to all things psychology in the UK. There is always some interesting tidbits in their monthly magazine 'The Psychologist' to catch the eye and Dr Christian Jarrett does a sterling job promoting psychological research on his blog BPS Research Digest seen at the foot of this blog. Don't get me wrong, I don't necessarily agree with everything psychological, including its various impact on autism down the years. But when it comes to thinks like Nudge theory, psychology plays its hand.

Today (7th September 2011) sees the start of the annual Developmental Psychology section conference coincidentally held here in the North-East of England. With it comes the inevitable press releases on what will be presented; amongst which are a few studies which caught my eye.

First is this work presented by Faye Powell from Loughborough University on the suggestion that family mealtimes might help children to become less fussy in their eating patterns. It has the obvious 'psychological' explanation attached to family social eating times with friendly 'mother-child' relationships trumping coercive pressure strategies. So carrot rather than stick works best apparently when getting children to eat new foods. I don't know why but whenever I see the words 'mother-child relationship' all I think about is Bowlby and attachment theory or baby ducks imprinting on mother ducks; the pinnacle of psychology speak.

The second presentation is by Dr Hayley Leonard and colleagues from Goldsmiths, University of London on poor motor development in early infancy for children at risk of developing an autism spectrum condition. Based on data from the British Autism Study of Infant Siblings (BASIS), her results suggest that both fine and gross motor skills were poorer in an at risk group as early as 7 months of age.

Both these studies are of interest to me and autism research. Powell's presentation whilst on more generic feeding patterns cuts to the heart of a big day-to-day issue for many children with autism (and their parents) in terms of feeding times and what a child will and will not eat. I'm not for one minute suggesting that all the various feeding problems associated with autism will be solved by eating together because they won't; eating problems occur for lots of different reasons in autism. The 'social' aspect to family mealtimes is though of some interest.

The Leonard presentation goes back to the first formal descriptions by Leo Kanner nearly 70 years ago now, and his astute observations of motor and movement problems observed in some of his patient group. Indeed even in the past few days, motor movements in autism have received research coverage. Assuming that the results are reliable and reproducible, they offer another potential non-invasive string to the bow of any would-be early detection system for the presence of an autism spectrum condition. It might also offer a few neural insights also.