Deborah Giaschi


Research Classification

Visual System
Sensation and Perception
Eye and Visual System Diseases
Infant / Child Development

Research Interests


Relevant Degree Programs


Research Methodology



Master's students
Doctoral students
Postdoctoral Fellows
Any time / year round

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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Nov 2020)
The perception of global motion in typical and atypical visual development (2018)

Sensitivity to motion information emerges early in life, but full maturation of motion perception can take many years. Reports on the age at which typically-developing children reach adult-like global motion perception have ranged from 3-14 years. There are also conflicting reports on whether people with amblyopia (a visual disorder that occurs when a young child experiences abnormal visual input to one eye for a prolonged period) show deficits on these tasks. This dissertation examines the spatio-temporal factors underlying immaturities and deficits in motion perception. I tested the hypothesis that perception of motion stimuli created with small spatial displacements would mature later than those created with large displacements; and as a consequence, children with amblyopia would show selective deficits for these small spatial displacements. First, I investigated typical maturation of motion perception across a range of stimulus parameters in people aged 7-30 years (Chapter 3). The youngest children performed similar to adults for large displacements, but mature performance was not reached until middle teenage years for small displacements. Second, I investigated performance for the same stimulus parameters in children with amblyopia (Chapter 4). Deficits were only present for parameters where healthy control children showed late maturation. Finally, I examined two factors that might account for the immaturities and deficits I found: spatial integration and eye stability. I determined that increasing the stimulus area had the same impact on coherence thresholds in 4-6 year-olds and adults (Chapter 5), suggesting children’s immature performance for small displacements was not restricted by spatial integration limitations at stages prior to motion processing. I also determined that eye stability had no relationship with performance in healthy adults (Chapter 6), indicating that poor fixational stability alone could not account for poor performance on a global motion task. This work contributes to a better understanding of how the developing brain is impacted by amblyopia, in turn providing insight into sensitive periods for typical visual development.

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Academic and neuroimaging outcomes of school-based reading interventions (2017)

Early intervention is important for decreasing the prevalence of reading disabilities. However, despite receiving treatment, some children continue to struggle with reading and therefore they require ongoing supports. Intensive and individualized programs may be beneficial for the lowest-performing readers, however, empirical review of intensive and individualized programs has not been widely conducted. Furthermore, there is a neurobiological basis to reading impairments. Children with poor reading skills have differences in brain function and structure when compared to typically-developing readers, and there may be changes in the brain after intervention. However, the combination of multiple reading tasks in functional brain imaging along with measures of grey and white matter structure has not been conducted previously. Therefore, the purpose of my dissertation was to evaluate the academic and neurobiological outcomes of an intensive reading program as well as to determine the predictors of reading success. In Chapter 2, poor readers receiving intensive instruction were compared to other poor readers receiving small group supports as well as to good readers not receiving additional supports. Performance on academic and cognitive measures were evaluated before and after 3 months of instruction and one year later. In Chapters 3 and 4, poor readers and good readers completed functional imaging tasks (Chapter 3) and scans of grey and white matter (Chapter 4) before and after 3 months of instruction. The results showed that students in the intensive program had improved word recognition and decoding fluency immediately after intervention and one year later. Changes after intervention were also shown in functional brain activity during a rhyming task, but not during a spelling task or in grey and white matter structures. However, baseline reading and spelling skills, brain activity in the left hemisphere, and white matter organization in the right hemisphere were associated with gains in reading skills over time. Although improvements in reading were shown, a significant gap between poor and good readers persisted in the third and fourth grades. Overall, this dissertation illustrates the importance of an intensive reading program and the need for continuing supports, and that both academic and neuroimaging measures are associated with reading outcome.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
A functional MRI investigation into the neural correlates of the multiple-object-tracking deficit in amblyopia (2010)

Amblyopia is a visual developmental disorder defined by reduced visual acuity in one (amblyopic) eye, while the other (fellow) eye has normal visual acuity and is otherwise healthy. Deficits in motion perception – such as multiple object tracking - affect both the amblyopic eye and the fellow eye. This thesis examined the neural correlates of the multiple-object tracking deficit to further understand the cortical deficit in amblyopia. Functional data were collected as participants with and without a history of amblyopia performed the multiple-object tracking task monocularly inside a 3T MRI scanner. Participants were asked to use their attention to track 0, 1, 2 or 4 of 9 moving balls (6 deg/s) for 12 seconds. MR signal change relative to fixation, as a function of target numerosity (track 0, track 1, track 2, track 4), group (control, amblyopia), and eye were examined in six regions of interest: putative V1, MT, superior parietal lobule, frontal eye fields, anterior intraparietal sulcus, and posterior intraparietal sulcus. For all four tracking conditions, area MT was found to be less active in participants with amblyopia with both fellow and amblyopic eye viewing. When tracking 4 balls, the anterior intraparietal sulcus was found to be less active in participants with amblyopia, only with amblyopic eye viewing. This finding suggests the functional differences in this region may be subtle. Future investigations targeting the network involved in sustained attention can determine the extent to which posterior parietal function may be impaired in amblyopia. Overall, this thesis provided neuroimaging evidence that the MT region is affected in human amblyopia, and that both eyes are affected by underlying cortical changes in dorsal extra-striate areas.

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Overlapping cortical regions for reading and temporal processing in developmental dyslexia (2010)

Children with developmental dyslexia have difficulty learning to read. These children may also have deficits in temporal processing, which is the perception and integration of rapidly presented stimuli. Behavioural research indicates a link between reading and temporal processing ability; however, the cortical relationship between these two skills has not been established. This thesis examined whether tasks of reading and temporal processing activate similar cortical regions in children with average reading ability and in children with dyslexia. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), activity for two reading tasks (phonological and orthographic) and two temporal processing tasks (dichotic pitch and global motion perception) was assessed. Three regions of interest were established in each participant: the lateral occipital cortex (LOC) and areas engaged by dichotic pitch and global motion tasks. Results demonstrated that both groups had increased activity in bilateral LOC during reading. In average readers, left LOC was more active than right regions during the phonological task, while dyslexic readers showed equivalent activity between left and right LOC for both reading tasks. The dichotic pitch regions did not show any evidence of activation during reading in either group. However, children with dyslexia exhibited significant activity in right global motion regions during the phonological task, but only on the difficult word condition. Average readers did not illustrate activation in global motion areas during reading. The current results suggest that LOC is involved with the reading process and children with dyslexia may have a deficit in left LOC. It was hypothesized that dyslexic readers may have increased attentional processing and recruitment from additional cortical regions during difficult tasks, which may explain the similar activity between global motion and phonological reading. Since there were no similar regions between dichotic pitch and reading, this suggests that these may not be directly related through cortical activity. The current results provide novel evidence that reading and visual temporal processing may involve some of the same cortical areas, at least in children with dyslexia. Future research will investigate links between reading and temporal processing in younger children and will examine differences in white matter connectivity.

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BC Children's Hospital

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