spark* Research

spark* groups took place in January and February of 2013 at the University of Manitoba in conjunction with Asperger Manitoba, Inc. The children were 7 to 10 years of age and were all diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition. There was also a ‘control group’ of children who were placed on a waiting list. This let us compare what happens when children learn from spark* compared with children who don’t have that opportunity. The ten spark* sessions focused on self-regulation of hands, breathing, feet and whole body. There were some very interesting changes. The children showed:

  • increased ability to maintain control of their behavior and emotional responses. This included appropriately inhibiting thoughts and actions and being more flexible in the way they approached situations.
  • greater tolerance for change to their routines and activities in everyday situations.
  • increased ability to recognize different emotional expressions, like happy, sad, anger, etc., as depicted in photos of people’s faces.
  • better control of automatic responses and could switch more readily between different ways of responding.


We presented the reults at IMFAR (International Meeting for Autism Research) in San Sebastian, Spain.
Here’s a picture of me with the poster.
Have a look at the poster here: IMFAR_2013_spark poster

spark* intervention groups were conducted in the fall of 2011 at the University of Manitoba, in conjunction with Asperger Manitoba Inc. The children were six to 12 years of age and were all diagnosed with an ASD. After only 10 sessions, the children showed significant changes in self-regulation skills. For more detail, look here.


Some interesting information

The myths about brain-based education – How education hijacked brain research
Other Research
What do parents want for their children with autism? Easter Seals’ 2008 survey showed that parents of children with autism were much more concerned than parents of children with no special needs about their children’s future (1) independence, (2) financial well-being, (3) quality of life and (4) employment. See the Key_Findings. spark* was designed and developed to help children with autism achieve greater independence and an improved quality.
Self-regulation skills (conscious control of executive functions) important to school engagement and peer relations
The importance of self-regulation for the school and peer engagement of children with high-functioning autism
Laudan B. Jahromi, Crystal I. Bryce, Jodi Swanson
Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, Volume 7, Issue 2 (2013)
This study examined individual differences in self-regulation, emotional and behavioral school engagement, and prosocial peer engagement in a sample of 40 children that included children with high functioning autism (HFA; n = 20) and their typical peers (n = 20). Children were 54.57 months on average at recruitment. Measures of self-regulation included parents’ reports of emotion regulation, effortful control, and executive function; direct observations of executive function skills; and observations of joint engagement during a parent–child interaction. Parents reported on school and prosocial peer engagement approximately one year later. Children with HFA had significantly impaired self-regulation, and decreased school and peer engagement. Executive function predicted both emotional and behavioral school engagement, whereas emotion regulation predicted prosocial peer engagement. The relation between effortful control and subsequent prosocial peer engagement was moderated by diagnostic group, suggesting it served a protective function for behaviors of children with HFA in the school setting.
Why systematic visual attention is included in spark*
Visual attentional engagement deficits in children with Specific Language Impairment and their role in real-time language processing by Marco Dispaldro, Laurence B. Leonard, Nicola Corradi, Milena Ruffino, Tiziana Bronte, Andrea Facoetti
In order to become a proficient user of language, infants must detect temporal cues embedded within the noisy acoustic spectra of ongoing speech by efficient attentional engagement. According to the neuro-constructivist approach, a multi-sensory dysfunction of attentional engagement – hampering the temporal sampling of stimuli – might be responsible for language deficits typically shown in children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI). In the present study, the efficiency of visual attentional engagement was investigated in 22 children with SLI and 22 typically developing (TD) children by measuring attentional masking (AM). AM refers to impaired identification of the first of two sequentially presented masked objects (O1 and O2) in which the O1–O2 interval was manipulated. Lexical and grammatical comprehension abilities were also tested in both groups. Children with SLI showed a sluggish engagement of temporal attention, and individual differences in AM accounted for a significant percentage of unique variance in grammatical performance. Our results suggest that an attentional engagement deficit – probably linked to a dysfunction of the right fronto-parietal attentional network – might be a contributing factor in these children’s language impairments. ====================
Is IQ the only thing that counts in learning?
The Hungry Mind: Intellectual Curiosity Is the Third Pillar of Academic Performance. S. von Stumm, B. Hell & T. Chamorro-Premuzic (2011). Association for Psychological Science, 6: 574-588. These researchers found that, although intelligence (IQ) predicts academic performance and one’s career and life path, there are other factors that are also very important. They did a meta-analysis and found that conscientiousness (planning, diligence, effort, self-discipline/self-regulation, feelings of competence) and curiosity (drive to solve problems and understand the world around them, “appetite for information”) also contributed importantly (and significantly) to achievement. In fact, when they added curiosity and conscientiousness together, these two factors predicted achievement better than intelligence. spark* helps children become more conscientious and, by using these strategies, they are more likely to optimize their achievement.

Does it help to teach children learning strategies? 
A Cognitive Strategy Instruction to Improve Math Calculation for Children With ADHD and LD: A Randomized Controlled Study J. Iseman & J. Naglieri (2011). Journal of Learning Disabilities, 44:184-195 The authors examined the effectiveness of cognitive strategy instruction that focused on planning. Students in the experimental group received instruction for 10 days, which encouraged them to develop and apply effective planning when working on math problems. The comparison group received standard math instruction. Students in the experimental strategy group showed large gains in the math skills (both how quickly and accurately they could complete math calculations) from the beginning to the end of the period of instruction. The children who did not receive the strategy instruction showed no such differences. One year later, the students in the experimental group continued to outperform the comparison group. spark* introduces children to strategies which can help them in many different areas of development.
Can a child just learn self-regulation from a computer games?

By Christie Nicholson | May 28, 2012, 4:32 PM PDT Christie Nicholson spoke with David Z. Hambrick, associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University who has investigated the impact of computer ‘brain’ games on the development of self-regulation skills. Hambrick and his colleagues found no significant differences in participants’ cognitive abilities after training with ‘brain games’. He said that physical activity and reading may have more impact on one’s abilities than the games. Read the entire conversation here. spark* relies on sensitive guidance from adults who understand the needs of each child and adjust the approaches to tasks based on the child’s response. All activities are adjusted to the child and his interests and abilities. We do not rely on pre-packaged programs or activities. ====================