Recently Completed Projects

Validation of the Reading Tendency Index in School-aged Children: Replication with a Bilingual Sample

Defining deficits in reading ability may be accomplished through the analysis of a child’s reading tendencies, representing a possible paradigm shift in the conceptualization and assessment of reading disabilities. Based on this premise, Mohl and colleagues (2018) developed a quantitative paradigm to measure reading tendency in children through performance on two lexical decision tasks (LDTs) that differentially rely on decoding and sightword reading abilities. The Reading Tendency Index (RTI; Mohl et al., 2018) is calculated from the differential between drift rates on the phonologic and orthographic LDTs. Scores closer to zero represent a balanced approach whereas scores as a negative or positive value suggest the tendency to rely on phonological decoding or sightword reading strategies, respectively. It was suggested that a balanced approach promotes more proficient reading abilities; however, this original study was performed with a small, male-only sample with a significant number of children with an ADHD diagnosis. The present study provided independent examination of the RTI paradigm, including the two LDT tasks and original calculations, to validate the tasks as a measure of reading abilities in a larger, representative sample of school-aged children. The present study involved the following goals: 1) to replicate the three-group reading tendency structure based on LDT performance in a larger representative sample of school-aged children, 2) to examine the construct validity of the RTI groupings and LDT tasks as a quantitative measure of reading ability, 3) to determine whether RTI group membership can be predicted based on reading and other cognitive skills, and 4) to explore performance differences, if any, in participants enrolled in French Immersion programs. The final sample included 92 participants aged 7 to 14 years (Mage = 9.96 years) recruited from English (n = 49) and French Immersion (n = 43) schools. Results indicated the following: 1) the three-group RTI structure was replicated in the larger sample of typically-developing school-aged children; 2) Sightword Readers had poorer performance on reading fluency, reading comprehension, and spelling than Balanced Readers and Decoders, but groups did not differ otherwise; 3) only reading comprehension predicted membership for the Sightword group; and 4) French Immersion students demonstrated similar patterns of performance on the RTI and other cognitive measures as English-only students. Supplemental post-hoc analyses were performed to explore different cut-off scores and methods for determining RTI groups. Implications and limitations of the current findings as well as considerations for future studies are discussed.

The results of this project can be found in Amanda O'Brien's dissertation (link forthcoming). 

The Association Between Sentence Repetition and Other Cognitive Abilities in School-aged Children

This study examined the association between sentence repetition and other cognitive abilities in 6- to 14-year-old children (N = 118; 60% female) recruited from schools in Windsor, Ontario. The effect of age and sex on children’s SR was also examined. Children completed Benton’s (1965) sentence repetition task, which required them to repeat a series of 26 verbally presented sentences of increasing length. Language, auditory verbal memory, processing speed, fluid reasoning, and visual perception were measured with subtests from the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (5th edition) and auditory nonverbal memory was assessed with the Seashore Rhythm Test. A multiple linear regression model including all independent variables significantly predicted SR performance. Only language abilities and auditory verbal memory significantly added to the prediction. Age was significantly and positively correlated to SR performance. Sex did not significantly affect SR performance. With the advantage of including the cognitive domains identified in previous studies within a single study, the findings support that SR is more than a measure of learning and memory. That SR taps multiple cognitive domains emphasizes the need to consider performance in the context of a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation.

The results of this project can be found in Alicia Bartlett's thesis

The Association Between Emotions, Working Memory, and Executive Functioning in an Undergraduate Population

A growing body of evidence indicates that depression and anxiety are among the most common health problems for university students and are linked to poorer academic performance. This may be due in part to the relation between depressive and anxiety disorders and cognitive dysfunction (e.g., Castaneda et al., 2008). While neuropsychological dysfunction is often seen in major depressive disorder in adults, limited data has been published among university students. Thus, the current study aimed to elucidate the relation between cognitive and executive functioning and psychosocial adjustment in an undergraduate population. It was predicted that self-reported depressive, anxious and stress symptoms would be associated with greater cognitive and executive dysfunction. Participants consisted of undergraduate students (N= 84, 78.6% female) aged 17 to 25 years (Mage= 20.33 years). Participants completed a battery of measures designed to assess their current depressive and anxious symptomology, day-to-day executive functioning, visual and verbal working memory, and intelligence. Multiple regression analyses found that anxiety significantly predicted verbal working memory (β= –.455, p< .006), but neither stress, anxiety, nor depression significantly predicted visual working memory (all ps > .05). After controlling for intelligence, stress was found to be a significant predictor of executive dysfunction (β= .405, p= .009). Further analyses indicated that stress specifically predicted problems regulating behaviour (β= .370, p= .005) rather than problems regulating thoughts (p> .05). This study helped clarify the role of mental health variables in undergraduates’ working memory and executive functioning abilities. Poorer academic performance may be exacerbated by difficulties with verbal working memory and behavioural regulation among those with stress and anxiety. Universities should consider placing more emphasis on student wellbeing to improve overall learning.

This project was conducted by Derya Abdullah as an honours thesis, under the supervision of graduate student Robin Richardson and Dr. Joe Casey, and was presented at the 2019 INS conference

Assessing the Concurrent Validity of a Novel Performance-Based Task of Executive Functioning

Current performance-based tasks of executive functioning (EF) are increasingly criticized for their limitations in predicting everyday EF. In an effort to improve validity, several recommendations have been put forth. The test developers of the Functional Assessment of Verbal Reasoning and Executive Strategies (FAVRES) directly embodied these recommendations and the FAVRES appeared promising. The current study investigated the concurrent validity of the FAVRES. It was hypothesized that the FAVRES would be a better predictor of everyday EF than an intelligence estimate. Students from the University of Windsor were recruited (N = 78; 63% Female, Mage = 22 years). Participants completed a demographic questionnaire, as well as the FAVRES, the Wechsler Test of Adult Reading (WTAR; an estimate of intelligence) and the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function - Adult (BRIEF-A; a self-report measure of everyday EF). FAVRES and WTAR scores were used in a regression model to predict scores on the BRIEF-A. Results revealed that neither FAVRES nor WTAR scores predicted everyday EF. Post-hoc regression analyses suggest that the FAVRES is best considered a task measuring verbal processes and general intelligence; while everyday EF is best predicted by mental health and stress. Importantly, these findings indicate a stronger relation between mental health/stress and everyday EF than between intelligence or performance-based tests and everyday EF. Thus, placing a greater conceptual emphasis on the effect of emotion on behaviour may improve performance-based measurement of EF.
The results of this project can be found in Bryanna Graves' thesis and have been presented at the 2018 INS conference.

The Use of Assistive Technology in School-Aged Children with Learning Disorders

Assistive Technology (AT) allows children with Specific Learning Disorders (LDs) to adequately access school curriculum. There is a paucity of literature addressing the use, perception of use, and training of students who qualify for AT. The few studies completed suggest that children with AT like their devices and find them useful. The current exploratory study examined the grade level of children provided AT devices, the types of AT hardware and software being used by children with various learning limitations in a school environment, and children’s perception of their AT devices. Archival data collected from school-aged children referred to the Learning Disabilities Association of Windsor-Essex County (LDAWE) was analyzed using descriptive and inferential statistics. It was predicted that grade level, type of AT device, themes of liking, and themes of disliking would predict children’s perception of their AT and the AT training after training sessions. The proposed research aimed to increase the understanding of current practices of the distribution and utilization of AT. Results and implications are discussed.

The results of this project can be found in Lynette Kivisto's thesis and were presented at the 2017 CPA convention and 2018 INS conference. 

Graphomotor Fluency in Child and Adolescent ADHD: Neuropsychological Factors and Implications for Assessment

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder of complex etiology that typically presents behaviourally with symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Among associated features, executive dysfunction, learning difficulties, and motor problems are common of the disorder. The present study involved two parts, where Part I sought to determine the optimal methodology to be used for Part II. Within the context of childhood ADHD, Part II of the study investigated 1) the effects of cognitive control on kinematic graphomotor fluency, 2) whether graphomotor fluency development is attenuated in children with ADHD, 3) which neuropsychological factors would best predict improvement in graphomotor fluency, and 4) the predictive ability of graphomotor improvement in identifying ADHD. Results indicated the following: 1) participants with and without ADHD demonstrated similar graphomotor fluency as cognitive control demands and figural complexity increased, 2) participants with ADHD evidenced attenuated procedural learning relative to controls when learning a novel grapheme, 3) the neuropsychological factors of verbal skills, processing speed, and fine motor skills were not predictive of improvement in graphomotor fluency, and 4) change in graphomotor fluency improvement did not demonstrate adequate ability to differentiate between those with and without ADHD. Implications, limitations, and additional considerations are discussed.

The results of this project can be found in Dr. Tom Duda's dissertation and have been presented at the 2017 INS conference.  Full results have been published in the journal, Human Movement Science.

Test-retest Reliability of the ImPACT in a Sample of Healthy Young Athletes

Although baseline neurocognitive assessments are highly recommended for tracking concussions in athletes who play high-risk sports, there are currently no measures available specifically for use with children. The most widely used assessment tool, the Immediate Post-concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT), was developed for adults. According to the test manual it can also be used with children as young as 11 years old. Despite this assertion, there is no published study regarding the psychometric properties of the ImPACT in children younger than high-school age. The purpose of the present study was to determine the two-week test-retest reliability of the ImPACT neurocognitive test in a healthy sample of young athletes between the ages of 10 and 14 who had not sustained a concussion within the previous three months. The study demonstrates that the ImPACT neurocognitive test may be appropriate for use with children as young as 11 years old based on test-retest reliability at a 14-day interval. The accuracy of scores, however, varies depending on the composite scores. These findings provide some psychometric support for the use of the ImPACT with athletes younger than high-school age and emphasize its use only as part of a comprehensive baseline evaluation.

The preliminary results are available in Amanda O'Brien's thesis and have been presented at the 2016 INS conference. Full results have been published in the journal, Applied Neuropsychology: Child

The Social Functioning of Children with Nonverbal Learning Disorder or High Functioning Autism: Implications for Differential Diagnosis

The variant of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in which there is no evidence of a comorbid intellectual disability (often informally referred to as high functioning autism [HFA]) and nonverbal learning disorder (NLD) are two clinical disorders associated with social difficulties. Whereas social functions have been studied extensively in ASD, relatively little research has investigated social functioning in NLD. As such, it is unclear whether the pattern and severity of social functioning difficulties is different between these disorders. Furthermore, it is often challenging to establish a differential diagnosis between these disorders, which is critical given the need for different treatment approaches. The present study aimed to investigate parents‘ perceptions of social adjustment in these groups, as well as to identify reliable differences in pragmatic communication, social motivation, and other aspects of social functioning based on behaviour inventories and standardized direct observation of social behaviour. Twenty-two participants (10 in the NLD group and 12 in the HFA group) between the ages of 9 and 17 years were recruited from Southwestern Ontario. The results indicated that overall both groups are characterized by social difficulties, with those of children in the HFA group tending to be more severe. The mean scores of each group were elevated in the AtRisk range on the Behavioral Symptoms Index composite of the BASC-2, indicating some social adjustment difficulties in both groups. The Social Interaction Difference Index (SIDI) from the Children‘s Communication Checklist-2 (CCC-2) and the Overall Total score from Module 3 of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-2 (ADOS-2) each significantly discriminated between the groups. The Reduced Contact and Social Interest subscale of the Children‘s Social Behaviour Questionnaire Revised (CSBQR) did not significantly predict group membership, and both groups were reported to have low frequency of interacting with peers. The present findings provide preliminary support that children in both groups experience social adjustment difficulties, pragmatic language difficulties, as well as reduced social interest in others, and preliminary evidence regarding the clinical usefulness of the CCC-2 and the ADOS-2 in the context of establishing a differential diagnosis between HFA and NLD.

The results are available in Dr. Scott's dissertation and have been presented at the 2018 INS conference. 

The Ecological Validity of Neuropsychological Tests of Executive Function in Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

Although performance-based tests are used to evaluate executive function (EF) processes, studies comparing scores from performance-based and behavioural measures of EF indicate that the former have little, if any, ecological validity in various clinical populations. This study examined the relationship between three performance-based EF tests—the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST), Trail Making Test (TMT), and Controlled Oral Word Association Test (COWAT)—and the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF) in a predominantly Aboriginal/Indian sample of children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD; N = 96). Bivariate correlations and canonical correlation analysis were not statistically significant, although more impaired scores on BRIEF Organization of Materials were weakly associated with fewer perseverative errors on the WCST. Performance-based test variables also did not meaningfully predict scores on the two BRIEF indexes. Findings are discussed in the context of the different aspects of EF assessed by performance-based EF tests and the BRIEF.

The results of this study are available in Jaspreet Rai's thesis and have also been presented at the 2015 INS conference. Additional results related to this topic have recently been published in the journal, Child Neuropsychology

 An fMRI Study of Fluent and Non-fluent Beginning Readers

The purpose of this study was to look at how the brain works while young children learn how to read.  It also looked at whether there are any differences between fluent and non-fluent beginning readers.  The results will help us understand how the brain changes as beginning readers become fluent as well as brain differences between children who have problems learning how to read and those who do not have problems.  This information may one day be used to help individuals who experience difficulties with learning how to read.  This study was conducted in collaboration with Dr. Jeffrey Stanley and some of his colleagues at the Wayne State University School of Medicine. This study has been approved by the Research Ethics Boards of the University of Windsor and Wayne State University.

The results of this study are available in Dr. Jennifer Long's dissertation.  

Variability of Graphomotor Task Performance in Adults with ADHD: A Kinematic Approach

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by symptoms of inattention and/or a combination of hyperactivity and impulsivity. Motor problems, including poor graphomotor skills, are frequently found in those with ADHD and have been noted to be undertreated. Variability of performance within several domains has also been indicated as a hallmark of ADHD. The present study sought to 1) determine whether the variability of performance observed in other psychological domains in those diagnosed with ADHD manifests within kinematic variables of graphomotor output and 2) determine whether a novel writing task differentially affects the graphomotor output of adults diagnosed with ADHD versus controls.

The results of this study are available in Tom Duda's thesis, have been presented at the 2014 AACN conference, and have also been published in the journal, Human Movement Science, in 2014 and 2015.