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Projects & Publications

PANDA Lab Projects


  • Virginia Tech Mobile Autism Center (MAC) 
    • The purpose of this study is to design a technology-based and parent-mediated intervention that addresses disparities in access to ASD evidence-based services by targeting rurality as a social determinant of health in rural Appalachian Virginia. The initial steps of this project include administering focus groups/questionnaires to assess strengths and barriers in medically under-served communities (including technology infrastructure) as well as holding a scientist/stakeholder panel workshop in to determine broader policy implications.

ACTIVE PROJECTS (Currently Recruiting Participants)

  • Autism Mentor Parent Program (AMPP)
    • The primary goal of AMPP is to provide families with support and information to successfully navigate their child’s Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis and treatment process. Trained parents (mentors) will share their experiences and help provide encouragement to other parents (mentees) as they learn to navigate their new reality.
    • The current study will pilot the use of an online mentor-mentee matching program for parents of children with ASD.
    • INTERESTED? Please email us at or call at (540) 231-2053
  • Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT)
    • This study tests the acceptability of a new model for a parent-based intervention targeting children’s expressive language skills. PRT, an existing evidence-based behavioral treatment program, was supplemented with either mindfulness-based principles and activities or with psycho-education about parent stress and ASD. The two approaches will be compared.
    • INTERESTED? Please email us at or call at (540) 231-2053
  • PEERS for Preschoolers (P4P)
    • This pilot study will examine a parent-assisted social skills group (P4P) for preschoolers with ASD. Physiological synchrony will be measured at pre-assessment, post-assessment, and 16-week follow up, by measuring HR/HRV for both parent and child during an interaction task. Each of the 16 P4P groups will consist of 4-6 children and 2-3 graduate student clinicians. Treatment involves the adaptation of an empirically supported social skills intervention for preschool-aged children with ASD by integrating elements of parent-coaching established by the UCLA PEERS® program.
    • During each group session, children will be taught fundamental social skills through a live puppet show, followed by activities designed to rehearse newly learned skills and reinforce skill development in a naturalistic setting. Simultaneously, parents will engage in a parent group in which they are taught specific skills as to how to help their children make and keep friends. Thirty-minute parent social-coaching sessions will consist of in-vivo performance feedback from the treatment team while parents provide social coaching to their children during play-based activities with other group members.
    • INTERESTED? Please email us at or call at (540) 231-2053
  • ASD and Employment Study
    • The purpose of this study is to determine needs and barriers to obtaining competitive employment in young adults with ASD. We are currently conducting focus groups and interviewing employers to gain a sense of their perspective on the barriers and benefits to hiring individuals with ASD, as well as working collaboratively with the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitation Services to better address these concerns. Future directions of this project include informing Vocational Rehabilitation services for individuals on the Autism Spectrum, specifically as it pertains to the identification and enhancement of discrete work-related skills.
    • INTERESTED? Please email us at or call at (540) 231-8747
  • VTCAR Registry and Assessment Database
    • The purpose of this research is twofold. First, to compile a registry of people in the area interested in research relating to ASD (registry). And second, to conduct ASD assessments on a number of these registrants to develop a database for research. These assessments include gold standard ASD assessment as well as a report sent to the individual or family.
    • INTERESTED? Please email us at or call at (540) 231-8747

INACTIVE PROJECTS (Data Analysis Phase)

  • Synchrony/Physiological Linkage
    • Using a social interaction task with varied emotional content (sad, neutral, happy), we will evaluate various statistical methods of examining physiological linkage over time. Linkage refers to the coordination of physiological measures across two people, and is thought to reflect the basic human tendency to engage with others. We are currently focusing on the linkage of heart beat interval, and hope to expand to other measures. We aim to develop a novel measure that provides an overall index of the dyad’s linkage, and we plan to test if such linkage is a physiological index of social reciprocity. We will then apply this methodology to study linkage in people with ASD.
  • Moms and Mindfulness
    • This study examines the roles of mindfulness and parent self-efficacy on parenting stress during a parent and child interaction task. This study tests the hypotheses that 1) mindfulness moderates the relationship between parenting stress and parent response to child during a parent-child interaction task and 2) parent self-efficacy will attenuate the effect of ASD trains on maternal stress (measured via self-report and physiological response). Mothers of children with and without ASD are invited to participate in a stressful puzzle task. Mothers are asked to wear a heart-rate monitor before, during and after the task to measure heart rate and heart rate variability.
  • Stress and Anger Management Program (STAMP)
    • The purpose of this study is to further assess the efficacy of STAMP to improve emotion regulation skills in 5-7 year-old children with ASD. This treatment targets emotion regulation for anger and anxiety.
  • Hear My Emotions (HearME) project
    • This study proposes a novel approach to enable emotion recognition, awareness and regulation in children right at the time when they begin to experience difficulties due to anxiety and frustration. We intend to use a feedback loop that measures the physiology (Galvanic Skin Response and Heart Rate) of the participant (age 3-6 years), correlates the information derived from it with his/her affect, and finally presents this information back to him/her in the form of an audio representation.
  • Children And their Regulation of Emotion (CARE)
    • The goals of this project are to examine social-emotional skills and adjustment problems, as well as the associations between these areas in children with ASD and their typically developing peers.
  • Machine Learning
    • The goal of this project is to do a comparative study of three machine learning (ML) algorithms that will permit the early detection of risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in underserved rural communities, that may ultimately improve their early access to care. The leading diagnostic instruments for autism require skilled clinicians and are time intensive. In addition, patients from rural areas often do not have access to experienced clinicians for early diagnosis. Screening for ASD risk may be more practical than waiting for diagnostic assessment, so early detection and referral to services can occur before an official diagnosis is made. A gold standard screening instrument is the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT).
    • This project involves working with an interdisciplinary team (engineers, computer scientists) across VT as well as across universities.
  • ASD and Driving Study
    • The purpose of this research project is to collect data on concerns about driving in teens with ASD and their parents in comparison to neurotypical teens. We are currently working in collaboration with faculty from The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, Center for Vulnerable Road User Safety to better address these concerns. Future directions of this project include the potential to inform Driver's Education courses to better include and inform individuals on the Autism Spectrum, as well as enhancing the literature in regards to the relationship between ASD symptomology, emotion regulation, and executive functioning.
  • Stress Test project
    • The purpose of this study is to develop a stress profile to predict adjustment of parents of children with ASD. We will do this by collecting both behavioral (parent self-report, parent-child interaction task) and physiological measures (heart rate/heart rate variability and saliva samples) that may index stress.
  • Biomarkers
    • The purpose of this research is to help us learn more about how those individuals with an autism spectrum disorder may be different from those individuals without an autism spectrum disorder in terms  of their heart rate, breathing rate, and brain functioning. Those who participate in the study wear a strap to collect heart/breathing rate information, experience an fMRI, provide saliva for genetic sampling, and answer some questionnaires.



Factor, R.S., Ryan, S.M., Farley, J.P., Ollendick, T.O., Scarpa, A. (advanced online publication, 2017).  Does the presence of anxiety and ADHD symptoms add to social impairment in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. DOI: 10.1007/s10803-016-3025-9

Factor, R.S. Condy, E.E., Farley, J.P, & Scarpa, A. (2016). Insistence on Sameness, Anxiety, and Social Motivation in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46, 2548-2554. DOI: 10.1007/s10803-016-2781-x

Hassenfeldt, T. A., Lorenzi, J., & Scarpa, A. (2015). A review of parent training in child interventions: Applications to cognitive-behavioral therapy for children with High-Functioning Autism.  Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2, 79-90. DOI:10.1007/s40489-014-0038-1

Patriquin, M., Lorenzi, J., Scarpa, A., Calkins, S., & Bell, M.A. (2015). Broad implications for respiratory sinus arrhythmia development: Associations with childhood symptoms of psychopathology in a community sample.  Developmental Psychobiology, 57, 120-130.  doi:10.1002/dev.21269

Scarpa, A. (2015).  Physiological arousal and its dysregulation in child maladjustment.  Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24, 345-351. DOI: 10.1177/0963721415588920

Swain, D., Scarpa, A., White, S.W., & Laugeson, E. (2015). Emotion dysregulation and anxiety in adults with ASD: Does social motivation play a role? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45, 3971-3977. DOI: 10.1007/s10803-015-2567-6

Waldron, J.C., Scarpa, A., Lorenzi, J., & White, S.W. (2015). Depression mediates the relationship between social performance impairment and hostility. Personality and Individual Differences, 85, 165-171. DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2015.05.003

White, S.W., Scarpa, A., Conner, C.C., Maddox, B.B., & Bonete, S. (2015). Evaluating change in social skills in high-functioning adults with autism spectrum disorder using a laboratory-based observational measure. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 30, 3-12. DOI: 10.1177/1088357614539836