Western Libraries Undergraduate Research Awards (WLURAs)


Children and adolescents with neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) demonstrate extensive cognitive heterogeneity that is not adequately captured by traditional diagnostic systems. Using a transdiagnostic approach, a retrospective cohort study of cognitive functioning was conducted with a large heterogenous sample (n = 1529) of children and adolescents 7 to 18 years of age with NDDs. Measures of short-term memory, verbal ability, and reasoning were administered to participants with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), comorbid ADHD/ASD, and typically developing (TD) participants using a 12-item web-based neurocognitive testing battery. Unsupervised machine learning techniques were implemented to create a self-organizing map (SOM), an artificial neural network, in conjunction with k-means clustering algorithms to identify data-driven subgroups. Six clusters representing different cognitive profiles were identified, including participants with varying degrees of cognitive impairment. Diagnostic status did not correspond with cluster-membership, providing evidence for the application of transdiagnostic approaches to understanding cognitive heterogeneity in children and adolescents with NDDs. Additionally, the findings suggest that many TD participants may have undiagnosed learning difficulties, emphasizing the need for accessible cognitive assessment tools in school-based settings.

How did you choose your research topic and/or design your research question? (200 words)

I chose my research topic after consulting with my psychology professor about completing an undergraduate honours thesis under their supervision. They informed me about an interesting dataset consisting of both cognitive assessments and demographic questionnaires that could be analyzed retrospectively. Initially, I planned to identify the cognitive profiles of children and adolescents with different neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g., autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) using a categorical approach. However, after conducting a review of the literature, I found that my research question was already addressed by other investigators. Therefore, I was motivated to find a unique way to analyze the dataset, and eventually stumbled upon literature examining neurodevelopmental disorders using a transdiagnostic approach. After conducting extensive research on the strengths associated with implementing a transdiagnostic paradigm in psychological research, I became interested in applying this perspective to my honour’s thesis. This discovery prompted me to delve even further into the literature, where I learned about unsupervised machine learning models, which eventually became the foundation of my research project. Although the process of designing my research question did not follow a linear trajectory, I think the challenges I encountered along the way were necessary and helped me to develop a unique study

How did you find library/archives services and resources for your research topic? (200 words)

To find library resources for my research topic, I performed several keyword searches on OMNI (Western Libraries) and added articles of interest to ‘My Favourites’ section for further review. Relevant articles were identified by reading the abstracts and browsing the subject area(s) that articles were organized under. To verify whether the articles identified would provide valuable information for my investigation, I accessed the articles online using the full text availability links. When I found particularly interesting articles, I would review their citation list to discover similar work and repeated this process until I had accumulated a comprehensive list of relevant articles. Then, I completed an annotated bibliography to highlight the most important aspects of each article and revisited this resource while writing my thesis. Oftentimes, I would notice gaps in my research, or would become interested in expanding upon certain areas, and would conduct my search of the literature again using the same approach. This technique allowed me to compile important information in one place, while also granting me the flexibility to revisit areas of interest that were not adequate addressed in my first search.

What library/archives services and resources did you use to perform your research? (200 words)

I predominantly used OMNI (Western Libraries) to perform my review of the literature and occasionally browsed other databases, such as PsychInfo and PubMed when I was unable to identify relevant articles during my initial search. I also took advantage of the citation-maker tool embedded on the OMNI platform to keep track of where each article was obtained from. This helped to ensure that all of my ideas were properly cited and adhered to APA (7th edition) formatting. Prior to conducting my literature review, a librarian visited my Introduction to University Essay Writing course at King's University College, where I learned about the importance of using peer-reviewed sources and effective search strategies, such as keywords and Boolean operators to narrow down my search results. In combination, the knowledge that I gained through my on-campus librarian and personal experience allowed me to effectively navigate the resources offered by Western Libraries and complete my undergraduate honour's thesis in psychology.