McMaster University

McMaster University

Current Research Projects

Autism Speaks’ High Risk, High Impact Initiative, Proof of Principle Investigation.

This research used the VoxNeuro® methods shown to be so effective in assessing the cognitive capabilities of patients rendered non-communicative due to acquired brain injuries. This research has shown that some children diagnosed with nonverbal autism and severely limited mental abilities are, in fact, functioning at much higher levels than their diagnoses would suggest. Preliminary data have been presented at two conferences and data collection continues at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.

Connolly, J.F., Reitzel, J.A., Szatmari, P. & Harrison, A. Innovations in assessing cognition in nonverbal children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Lecture in a symposium entitled: Characterizing Cognition In Nonverbal Individuals with Autism: Innovative Assessment and Treatment. IMFAR - International Meeting for Autism Research, San Diego, CA., May, 2011.

Connolly, J.F. Determining linguistic competence in the non-verbal autistic child. Conference on Sources of Individual Linguistics Differences at the University of Ottawa, March 2-4, 2012.

Dr. Connolly was one of three presentations by autism researchers (Dr. Margaret Bauman from Harvard University and Dr. April Benasich from Rutgers University were the other presenters) presented his research as part of World Autism Awareness Day at the United Nations on April 2nd, 2012. The event was supported by the Golden Hat Foundation.

OBI POND – Autism

Better Treatments for Neurodevelopmental disorders

Province of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Disorders Network (POND Network) is sponsored by Ontario Brain Institute. The POND project will study neurodevelopmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorders and Intellectual Disability. It will:

  • Create the first Canadian clinical trials network specializing in childhood neurodevelopmental disorders, in order to accelerate the creation of more effective medications
  • Develop a large clinical database of children with these disorders to advance scientific understanding
  • Develop models to better understand disease mechanisms and quicken the pace of testing.

Dr. Connolly’s particular involvement will be pursuing his research (referred to as VoxNeuro®) using Electroencephalography (EEG) and Event-Related Potentials (ERP) to study ASD with particular concentration on nonverbal autism.


Our research on developing methods for assessing cognitive function in non-communicative patients such as those with acquired brain injuries continues. This research has now been extended to include the development of methods for assessing possible cognitive activity in coma patients using an extended protocol of graded assessments using EEG-based measures. In addition to this work the lab has developed new EEG-based tools to assess the immediate and longer term consequences of mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI) otherwise referred to as concussion.


VoxNeuro® is the name of our research program that in the early 1990s began to use event-related brain potentials (ERP) in association with computer-adapted neuropsychological tests to assess people with neurologically-based communication problems. The method has proven to be successful in assessing a range of populations characterized by significant communication impairments including those with acquired brain injuries and individuals diagnosed as autistic. Our research includes coma patients and those in the STR (Slow-To-Recover) Program at Hamilton Health Sciences. Additionally, we conduct research in cooperation with Dr. Peter Szatmari, Dr. Jo-Ann Reitzel and Autism Speaks Inc., in order to expand accurate assessment of brain activity in non-verbal autistic populations. Information such as this may help people in the future who are diagnosed with Autism to receive better care and management. We continue to expand the number of cognitive functions that can be evaluated by our techniques. VoxNeuro® now has a range of tests that assess language and has expanded to include tests of memory function. We have added fMRI-based protocols to our test battery not only for a complementary perspective on brain function during test performance but to expand our ability to evaluate certain cognitive functions.

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