A Brief Description of Currently Funded Research Grants 2014 – 2015
Using mindfulness to address cognitive processing and emotion regulation challenges in youth with learning disabilities
Dr. Karen Milligan
Dr. Marjory Phillips
Dr. Sidney Segalowitz
Dr. Louis Schmidt
Introduction: Learning Disabilities (LDs) affect approximately 6.2% of Canadian children aged 6 to 15 (PACFOLD, 2007). These neurobiological disorders affect the ability to acquire, organize, retain, understand and use infonnation in youth who have average to above average levels of intellectual ability. The processing challenges, in tum, impact on academic achievement in areas such as reading, writing. and math (LDAC, 2002). While less recognized, youth with
LDs are 15 times more likely experience significant mental health (MH) challenges, including ADHD, anxiety, and depression. This increased risk is due, in part, to common cognitive and emotion regulation processes being implicated in academic, social, and emotional pursuits. More specifically, to be able to manage and cope effectively with negative emotions, youth with LDs must ( I) be able to attend to their experience and recognize that they are faced with a challenge, (2) control their impulse to cope with the associated negative emotion by withdrawing or acting out (both forms of experiential avoidance), and (3) apply problem-solving skills that depend on both problem-specific skills and higher-order cognitive processes, such as executive functions (i.e., inhibition, cognitive flexibility, working memory, planning). These three steps act in concert to allow youth to stay present and mindfully select their course of action to assist them in achieving their goal. To date, most treatments for youth with LDs have focused on academic remediation and social skills training, with little attention to the emotion regulation needs of this population. Integra, an accredited children’s mental health centre for youth with LD+MH, has addressed this gap with their Mindfulness Martial Arts (MMA; Integra & Badali, 2002) program.
Objectives: MMA is a 20-week manualized group treatment for adolescents with LD+MH that imbeds mindfulness, cognitive therapy, and behavioural activation into an engaging martial arts treatment for adolescents. Our previous research has demonstrated that MMA is associated with significant improvements in aggression and anxiety in youth with LD+MH compared to a waidist control, and significant gains in behavioural regulation and impulse control from pre-to post-treatment. We are seeking support from the Scottish Rite Foundation to delve deeper into the cognitive and emotion regulation processes that support these positive mental health outcomes. Consistent with the objectives of the foundation, our research is biomedical in nature and will examine changes in brain-based cognitive processes (attention. working memory, impulse control, flexibility) and emotion regulation associated with MMA.
Outline of Research: 64 adolescents (aged 12-16) participating in the MMA treatment program and 64 waitlist controls will serve as participants. EEG and ECG recordings of brain and cardiac activity will be recorded during completion of 4 computer tasks (assessing attention, impulse control, flexibility, and emotion regulation) and a rest task at pre- and post-treatment, 3-and l2-month follow-up. Parents and youth will complete questionnaires regarding their behaviour and mental health. Analyses will examine if participants in the MMA program make more gains from pre- to post-treatment (and at follow-up) compared to the control group. The impact of type of LD and mental health challenge, attendance and home practice of treatment skills on treatment outcomes will also be explored.
Projected Benefits and Application of Findings: This research will support our understanding of the biological mechanisms of change associated with MMA and more broadly with mindfulness treatments for adolescents. The present study will examine changes at the behavioural and biological level and will explore participant factors (e.g., mental health and LD profile, home practice) that may moderate outcomes. This research will support Integra’s efforts to disseminate MMA nationally and will provide direction for further independent evaluation of
Functional Characterization of autism associated genetic mutations in the Cadm1-Mupp1 synaptic adhesion complex
Dr. Hideto Takahashi
Institut du recherche cliniques de Montreal
Introduction: Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) form a group of developmental disabilities characterized by impaired social interactions, communication impairment, and restricted and repetitive behaviors. These lead to lifelong difficulties in social life and mental health problems. Genetic studies have identified hundreds of candidate genes linked with ASDs. Interestingly, many of these genes are involved in the formation and function of brain structures called synapses. Synapses are adhesion sites between brain cells that permit the passing of signals and hence are fundamental for brain functions such as cognition, learning and memory. Based on the genetic evidence, dysfunction of synapses is proposed as a common pathogenesis of ASDs. However, it remains unclear how particular autism-linked genetic mutations cause synaptic pathology. Our group has identified several autism-linked genetic mutations in the synaptic proteins Cadm1 and Mupp1. These proteins form the core of an adhesion complex that is involved in synapse development and synaptic plasticity (modification of synaptic connectivity in response to experience). We propose to investigate the functional impact of the autism-linked Cadm1 and Mupp1 mutations in synaptic pathology to facilitate our understanding of a common pathogenesis of ASDs.