Mauren was a first-year doctoral student within the Clinical Psychology program at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, supervised by Dr. Molly Losh, Northwestern University, Communication Sciences and Disorders.
The Biological Basis of Pragmatic Language in Fragile X Premutation Carriers
Pragmatic language, or how we use language in social contexts like conversations, is a complex language skill that allows us to build relationships and connect with others. Individuals with fragile X syndrome have difficulties with pragmatic language and often, people with the fragile X premutation (PM) have differences in how they use pragmatic language. Despite this, little is understood about the biological and genetic foundations of pragmatic language skills in women with the PM. This project aims to understand how biological factors might influence pragmatic language skills in PM carriers. To do this, we will examine the relationship between FMR1 genetic variation, a measure that indicates how the brain hears and represents sound, and pragmatic language abilities. Through this research, we hope to gain insight into the causes of language differences in FMR1 conditions. By understanding the root of these differences, we may be able to develop target language interventions, as well as investigate the relationship between pragmatics and clinical disorders experienced by many PM carriers such as anxiety and executive function difficulties, ultimately creating a path towards targeted treatment.
In their own words:
“Participating in the National Fragile X Foundation Randi J. Hagerman Summer Scholars Award has been a truly incredible experience. The program has provided me the opportunity to conduct exciting, innovative research investigating the biological bases of social communication abilities in women who carry the FMR1 premutation. Through this work, I have started examining the biological foundations of prosodic synchrony, an important skill involved in social communication, through the novel application of a statistical analysis that incorporates the temporal dynamics of speech. The preliminary results discussed in my presentation show that this methodology may be sensitive in detecting subtle language differences in premutation carriers. This is a vital first step in developing social communication interventions for individuals with FMR1 conditions that the target underlying causes of language difficulties. As I continue to advance this project, I hope to publish my results in an academic journal. Not only has the Randi J. Hagerman Summer Scholars program given me with the opportunity to initiate this exciting project, but it has also provided an important platform to share this research with the Fragile X community. For me, engaging with and sharing my work with the community has been the most rewarding and impactful element of this program. I am so grateful for this experience and am honored to have been selected to participate in the Randi J. Hagerman Summer Scholars program.”
—Maureen Butler, Northwestern University