Autism research takes off at Kean

Dr. Burke in the Learning lab for preschoolers. Photo Courtesy of Johanna Ekladous

Dr. Burke in the Learning lab for preschoolers.
Photo Courtesy of Johanna Ekladous.

By Johanna Edladous| Published April 6, 2017

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects 1 in 68 children in the United States, but 1 in 41 in New Jersey. According to Autism New Jersey, a nonprofit organization, New Jersey has the highest rate of children with autism nationwide.

Dr. John C. Burke is an assistant professor and the applied behavioral analysis program coordinator at the College of Education at Kean University. Given the high rates of autism in the state, the research, which is soon to be starting at Kean University, will be extremely vital in New Jersey.

As of this year, the board of trustees at Kean University has approved Burke’s research lab for early detection of autism through a new program and research with Infant Eye Tracking and Learning Lab.

There are various centers of excellence in the field of autism that have done extensive research in this field, such as Yale University and UC Davis. According to Dr. Burke, research is showing very interesting findings.

Previously, it was believed that early identification of the disorder meant diagnosis at two years old, then later 18 months and then a year. Now there is information out there to show we can detect signs of autism as early as six months. Some research is even stating that early signs may be seen in as early as a couple of months of age.

This program is meant to work with children as young as two months in which it will remotely track the retinas of the child’s eye. According to Burke, there is a certain trajectory of characteristics in typical developing infants and children. He states that during that first year of development, children with autism fall away from that path and then veer off onto a trajectory more associated with the disorder.

Th eye tracking machine follows the eye movement and records it on the computer so what the child sees, the researcher will see as well. This will allow for the researcher to detect whether or not the infant is staying on the normal development track.

Burke’s research works in conjunction with learning labs, which are a learn while playing setting. The goal of this research is to try to detect early signs of autism to then provide early intervention through a protocol called the First Signs Infant Program.

Th rough this program graduate students will be assisting in the play-based intervention for infants as young as two months old. This will entail getting the children to track various objects, getting them to have reciprocal smile and other behaviors that kids who eventually get the diagnosis of autism don’t end up doing.

The main goal of this research, Dr. Burke said, “is to say these are kids who are at risk for autism but they did not develop full blown autism because of the intervention.”

Not only does Dr. Burke want to help the children but he also wants to assist the families that are affected by this developmental disorder. He wants to give them all a chance at the best life possible. Through his new research and program, he will help the parents with tips and guides to use at home.

Dr. Burke is looking for infants ages two to six months of age, which he will track until the age of two years old. Please visit to see how you can help Dr. Burke and Kean University in the advancement of their autism research.

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