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Features / Webinars

Francesca Happe presents ‘fractionated triad’ model

24 July 2013
The Presenter
Presenter

Francesca Happé

Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, MRC SGDP Center, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London

Francesca Happé’s research in cognitive neuroscience focuses specifically on autism and investigation of related typical and atypical developmental processes, particularly as they relate to social cognition.

On 24 July, Francesca Happé discussed the ‘fractionable triad’ hypothesis she helped develop: the notion that the core symptoms that comprise autism might be inherited independently, implying distinct underlying biological causes.

Happé is professor of cognitive neuroscience at King’s College London, as well as the new president of theInternational Society for Autism Research.

You can watch a complete replay of the webinar above.

Use the comments section below to submit questions we didn’t have time to discuss during the Q&A session, or to pose follow-up questions for Happé.

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Presentations by leading experts that showcase new findings, useful techniques and emerging topics in autism research. We invite questions before and during the presentations in the Comments section.
  • Lizzie Scott

    Thank you for a really interesting, informative and challenging talk, Professor Happe.

    • Francesca Happe

      Thanks Lizzie!

  • Sue Lerner

    Will you please comment further about sensory problems and your work. Do youknow of upcoming researchers looking onto sensory issues as part of ASDs?

    • Francesca Happe

      We (myself and my past-PhD student Stephanie Lietz) have begun exploring whether ‘weak coherence’, or a tendency for processing details independent of context, might explain some sensory differences in ASD. In our very simple study, preceding context/expectations affected how long neurotypical children chose to explore a sensory stimulus, but had little effect on the exploration behaviour of children with ASD. So my personal guess is the sensory symptoms will cluster with uneven IQ profile due to detail focus etc – but a number of researchers are getting involved with research on sensory differences now (e.g. interesting recent paper by Liz Pellicano using Bayesian approach), so I hope we’ll know more soon. About time, since Temple Grandin and others have been telling us for years how central these symptoms are to everyday life with ASD!

  • Sylvie Goldman

    Could you comment on the distinction within the main repetitive/restricted behaviors criteria between repetitive thoughts vs. abnormal repetitive movements such as stereotypies and the contribution of other motor impairments characteristic of autism, and how these might be another way to fractionate the syndrome with and without motor involvement linked to particular neuronal and genetic correlates?

    • Francesca Happe

      That’s a really interesting question, but not one I have expertise to answer, I’m afraid. We haven’t split restricted/repetitive behaviours (RRBI) in our twin studies so far. In my talk I referred to factor analytic studies by, for example, Peter Szatmari and his team, which showed 2 factors within RRBI.

  • Donna Maney

    Where would you like to see animal research going, that would best address what you see as gaps in our current understanding?

    • Francesca Happe

      That’ a good question – from my (relatively few) interactions with those working with animal models, they seem pretty happy with the ‘fractionated triad’ kind of approach – maybe because they know they can’t create a model of ASD itself, just try and examine mechanisms (at various levels) underlying component symptoms or processes. I’m really excited, like lots of people, by the work on Retts animal models showing possible reversibility even in adulthood.

  • Monica Adler Wener

    What are the implications of these findings for intervention?

    • Francesca Happe

      I’m glad you asked that! For me, the fractionated triad approach helps reconcile some very different positions regarding ASD intervention. On the one hand I know people with ASD who object to the notion of intervention and say they would not change their ASD if they could, because it is part of who they are. On the other hand I know some adults with ASD and many parents who would love to have a magic pill to address communication difficulties, self-injurious behaviour, social anxiety and so forth. The fractionated triad idea suggests we could intervene on some aspects of ASD without interfering with other aspects. So, for example, we could give people with ASD a bigger range of social and communication skills in their armoury (for coping with neurotypicals) while leaving alone their detail-focused (and often superior) processing style.

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