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Comprehensive Communication Intervention for Minimally Verbal Children with Autism


  • Early Childhood (3-5 years)


Nearly one third of children with autism remain minimally verbal after years of intervention. Children with autism who are minimally verbal (less than 20 words used communicatively) are an extremely heterogeneous population. Although there are specific factors that increase risk for remaining nonverbal (early emergent responsive joint attention, lack of verbal imitation, reduced object interest), any child with autism who is not yet using spoken language by age 4, should be considered at high risk for remaining minimally verbal. The proposed project is a randomized control design study testing the effectiveness of a comprehensive communication intervention to improve spoken language and social communication, and to reduce the portion of children with autism who are minimally verbal at age 5. The intervention includes four components which have been shown to be effective in improving outcomes for older children with ASD who are minimally verbal. These components are (a) direct teaching for foundational language skills, (b) systematic introduction of an SGD paired with spoken language; (c) A naturalistic communication intervention: Joint Attention, Structured Play, Engagement and Regulation and Enhanced Milieu Teaching (JASP-EMT); (d) parent training to support and generalize newly learned communication skills. Following comprehensive assessment linking children's extant communication skills to the skills taught in each intervention component, an adapted treatment protocol will be developed for each child within the framework of the comprehensive treatment model. A total of 97 children ages 36 to 54 months will be randomly assigned to the treatment or a BAU control group. Progress in treatment will be monitored throughout the 3-month (42 session) intervention. Children will be assessed at 4 time points: pre intervention, post- intervention, 2 months, and 4 months after intervention. The data collected in this randomized trial will provide: (1) evidence of effectiveness for a comprehensive communicative intervention for improving communication in minimally verbal children with autism; and (2) new information about the correlates of minimal verbal status in children with autism.

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