And more...

Esmaeeli et al. found that family history is the biggest predictor of reading disorders in children at the end of second grade, but emergent literacy and oral language skills also played a role. As SLPs, we should always be taking family history into account when screening or testing for reading disorders.

Two studies this month looked at standardized language tests for Spanish–English bilingual children. Fitton et al. studied the sentence repetition task from the Bilingual English–Spanish Assessment (BESA) and found that it was a valid measure of morphosyntax in both Spanish and English. Wood & Schatschneider studied the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-4) and found that it was biased against Spanish–English dual language learners (see also this review).

Méndez & Simon-Cereijido looked at Spanish–English bilingual preschoolers with developmental language disorder* (DLD) and found that children with better Spanish vocabulary skills also had better English grammar skills. They suggest targeting vocabulary in students’ home language to support English learning.

In a survey of nearly 3000 children, Reinhartsen et al. found that children with autism are significantly more likely to have higher expressive language skills than receptive. Children with this profile tended to have more severe delays and more significantly impaired language overall compared to children without this profile.

Rudolph et al. studied the diagnostic accuracy of finite verb morphology composite (FVMC) scores. Unlike previous studies, they found that FVMC wasn’t good at identifying 6-year-olds with developmental language disorder (DLD). The difference might be due to a larger, more representative sample of children. (NOTE: “The FVMC is derived from a spontaneous language sample, in either a free-play or elicited narrative scenario, and reflects the percent occurrence in obligatory contexts of eight T/A morphemes: regular past tense –ed, 3S, and present tense uncontracted and contracted copula and auxiliary BE forms (am, is, are).” ~Rudolph et al., 2019)

Verschuur et al. studied two types of parent training in Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT), finding that both group and individual training improved parents’ ability to create communication opportunities and increased children’s initiations. Furthermore, group training had additional benefits for parents’ stress levels and feelings of self-efficacy. The authors suggest that combining group and individual sessions might be a good way to build parents’ skills while conserving resources.

Venker et al. surveyed SLPs about their use of telegraphic speech. The vast majority of SLPs reported using telegraphic input for commenting on play, prompting for verbal imitations, and giving directions. However, only 18% of SLPs reported that they felt telegraphic speech is useful, which doesn’t make much sense! More research is needed to help align SLP practices and perspectives for use of telegraphic input. (Editors’ note = Perhaps it’s just a habit that’s hard to break? Even culturally influenced?)

 

*Note: The children in this study were those with Specific Language Impairment (SLI), which refers to children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) and normal nonverbal intelligence. We use DLD throughout our website for consistency purposes (read more here).

 

Esmaeeli, Z., Kyle, F.E., & Lundetræ, K. (2019). Contribution of family risk, emergent literacy and environmental protective factors in children’s reading difficulties at the end of second-grade. Reading and Writing. doi:10.1007/s11145-019-09948-5.

Fitton, L., Hoge, R., Petscher, Y., & Wood, C. (2019). Psychometric evaluation of the Bilingual English-Spanish Assessment sentence repetition task for clinical decision making. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. doi:10.1044/2019_JSLHR-L-1

Méndez, L. I., & Simon-Cereijido, G. (2019). A view of the lexical-grammatical link in young latinos with specific language impairment using language-specific and conceptual measures. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. doi:10.1044/2019_JSLHR-L-18-0315

Reinhartsen, D.B., Tapia, A.L., Watson, L., Crais, E., Bradley, C., Fairchild, J., Herring, A.H., & Daniels, J. (2019). Expressive dominant versus receptive dominant language patterns in young children: Findings from the study to explore early development. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. doi:10.1007/s10803-019-03999-x

Rudolph, J. M., Dollaghan, C. A., & Crotteau, S. (2019). Finite verb morphology composite: Values from a community sample. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. doi:10.1044/2019_JSLHR-L-18-0437 

Venker, C.E., Yasick, M., & McDaniel, J. (2019). Using telegraphic input with children with language delays: A survey of speech-language pathologists’ practices and perspectives. American Journal of Speech–Language Pathology. doi:10.1044/2018_AJSLP-18-0140

Verschuur, R., Huskens, B. & Didden, R. (2019). Effectiveness of Parent Education in Pivotal Response Treatment on Pivotal and Collateral Responses. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. doi:10.1007/s10803-019-04061-6

Wood, C., & Schatschneider, C. (2019). Item bias: Predictors of accuracy on Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Fourth Edition items for Spanish-English-speaking children. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. doi: 10.1044/2018_JSLHR-L-18-0145  

Teaching grammar to kids with ASD—How explicit should we be?

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We know that the language skills of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) vary… a lot. While some children are impaired across all language domains, others have weaknesses in just a few. For example, one subgroup of children with ASD have a relative weakness in grammar compared to the other domains. For kids with impairments in grammar, it is common practice to use an implicit intervention approach.

Perhaps you use implicit strategies with your clients? Do you show them pictures, model, and provide corrective feedback and recasts (e.g., “That’s right! The dog is running!”)? These are all implicit (you’re basically bombarding the child with correct productions and hoping that it sticks). Sometimes, though, you might feel that implicit isn’t enough. With some of your clients, do you ever find it helpful to explicitly provide the grammatical rule that you’re working on (e.g., we add -ing because it’s an action word)?

The authors of this study wanted to see whether adding an explicit component to intervention would be advantageous for children with ASD*. Seventeen children with ASD (ages 4–10) were taught two novel grammatical forms by either a combined explicit–implicit approach or an implicit-only approach. The combined approach differed in one way—the rule was described to the kids during intervention, which ended up being advantageous. More children learned the rules and used the novel forms during the combined explicit–implicit approach compared to the implicit-only approach.  

So if you’re working with kids with ASD with grammatical weaknesses, should you present the rules during intervention? At this point, it’s worth a try. The authors did question the generalizability of the results because the sample in the study was not very diverse (all subjects were verbal with mild-moderate ASD); so while the explicit component could be helpful for some of your students, it’s important to keep this limitation in mind.

*Got deja vu? We’ve reviewed another study from this lab on explicit grammar intervention before, but that one looked at children with developmental language disorders (DLD).  This study extends those findings to a new population!

 

Bangert, K. J., Halverson, D. M., & Finestack, L. H. (2019). Evaluation of an explicit instructional approach to teach grammatical forms to children with low-symptom severity Autism Spectrum Disorder. American Journal of Speech–Language Pathology. doi:10.1044/2018_AJSLP-18-0016

And more...

Recently, we reviewed a study showing that young children with less-developed self-regulation skills needed more time in fluency therapy, and the authors recommended addressing self-regulation concurrently with fluency. But how do you do that? Druker et al. (the team behind that other study) are back with one possible way: training parents to deliver intervention in resilience. Children whose parents received this training reduced emotional and behavioral issues compared to a group who only received fluency therapy. Check out the appendices for examples of the resilience-boosting activities parents were trained to use.  

Ebert et al. studied the relationships among bilingualism, developmental language disorder (DLD), and attention. They found that bilingualism was not related to improved attention (so, no evidence for a hypothesized “bilingual cognitive advantage”), but that DLD was associated with poorer attention skills in both mono- and bilingual children.

Gremp et al. found that children who are DHH have difficulty with nameable visual sequencing tasks (think: the circle handheld Simon game that lights up) compared to hearing peers, which positively predicted receptive vocabulary scores. This highlights the difficulty with both sequencing and describing abstract concepts often experienced by this population. Keep in mind that these were DHH children in primarily spoken English environments, with little-to-no ASL access. The discussion section dives into a deeper discussion of possible causes of these deficits.

Herman et al. examined the literacy skills of oral deaf (OD) children and compared them with another group known to struggle with reading—hearing children with dyslexia. In both groups, letter sound knowledge, phonological skills, and rapid automatic naming abilities were helpful measures for identifying poor readers. Compared with the hearing group, OD children’s skills in phoneme deletion and vocabulary were lower, and also useful for predicting literacy outcomes. The authors discuss implications for literacy assessment and intervention, so check out the full article if you work with this population.

Hessling & Brimo studied the micro- and macrostructure of narrative retells produced by children with Down Syndrome. They describe general patterns of strengths and weaknesses across the children, and found that narrative measures were correlated with both word-level reading and reading comprehension skills. They recommend narrative analysis as a useful assessment and intervention-planning tool for this population.

Nonword repetition is thought to be a non-biased task with high clinical utility for diagnosing language disorders. But if you’re using this task to assess speakers of non-mainstream dialects, McDonald & Oetting suggest you measure the density of non-mainstream forms (through language sampling, an assessment like the DELV, or listener judgments) as part of your assessment, because their new study shows that dialect density can affect nonword repetition scores.

Robinson & Norton examined US national data from 2004–2014 and determined that black American students were disproportionately classified as speech or language impaired in three-quarters of the states. In most cases, these students were over-represented, but some states (those with a larger density of black residents) were likely to under-represent.

 

Druker, K. C., Mazzucchelli, T. G., & Beilby, J. M. (2019). An evaluation of an integrated fluency and resilience program for early developmental stuttering disorders. Journal of Communication Disorders. doi:10.1016/j.jcomdis.2019.02.002

Ebert, K. D., Rak, D., Slawny, C. M., & Fogg, L. (2019). Attention in Bilingual Children With Developmental Language Disorder. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. doi:10.1044/2018_JSLHR-L-18-0221

Gremp, M. A., Deocampo, J. A., Walk, A. M., & Conway, C. M. (2019). Visual sequential processing and language ability in children who are deaf or hard of hearing. Journal of Child Language. doi:10.1017/s0305000918000569

Herman, R., E. Kyle, F., & Roy, P. (2019). Literacy and Phonological Skills in Oral Deaf Children and Hearing Children With a History of Dyslexia. Reading Research Quarterly. doi:10.1002/rrq.244

Hessling, A., & Brimo, D. M. (2019). Spoken fictional narrative and literacy skills of children with Down syndrome. Journal of Communication Disorders. doi:10.1016/j.jcomdis.2019.03.005

McDonald, J. L., & Oetting, J. B. (2019). Nonword Repetition Across Two Dialects of English: Effects of Specific Language Impairment and Nonmainstream Form Density. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. doi:10.1044/2018_JSLHR-L-18-0253

Robinson, G. C., & Norton, P. C. (2019). A Decade of Disproportionality: A State-Level Analysis of African American Students Enrolled in the Primary Disability Category of Speech or Language Impairment. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools. doi:10.1044/2018_LSHSS-17-0149

AAC carryover: Buy-in is only the beginning

One of the biggest frustrations for clinicians who support AAC are the devices that don’t get used. You know, the ones that sit in the cabinet unless you’re in the room, or the ones that parents ask you not to send home. There are a lot of factors that contribute to this kind of device abandonment (can’t you just picture a lonely device feeling sorry for itself?). We need to understand these factors, so we can focus our work on the key ingredients that will promote AAC device use and help students—and their support teams—be successful.  

You won’t be surprised by two of the most common caregiver-related barriers to device success: 

1)    The adults don’t know how to use the device (or, they lack operational competency).

This includes finding words, programming, troubleshooting, and navigating the device settings. Parents and teachers often report that they don’t get enough training in this stuff.

2)    The adults don’t have positive attitudes about the device (or, they lack buy-in).  

Specific aspects of buy-in can include considering the device the child’s voice and believing that it should be available at all times.

These two barriers are important, for sure, but how important? And what else are we missing? This study delved into this issue, focusing on the operational competency and buy-in of parents and teachers of school-aged (3–16 years) children with autism, and whether they related to how frequently the children’s AAC devices were used. The 33 children in the study all used a personally-owned PRC device or the related LAMP Words for Life app as their main method of communication at both home and school. To measure how much devices were used, the researchers analyzed data from PRC’s Realize Language feature across three school days and one weekend. Parent and teacher surveys were used to measure operational competency and buy-in.

The good news? Overall, buy-in and operational competency was high for everyone. The bad news? No one was using devices that much. In this group, teachers reported greater buy-in (or at least answered their surveys that way, but that’s a whole different topic...), but parents and teachers were equally comfortable operating the devices. The devices were used more frequently at school vs. home (over half of the kids didn’t use the devices at home at all). 

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A big grain of salt here: the study looked at really a pretty small window in time (Is one weekend at your house representative of how your family works?), and only one device company—that uses a relatively complex language system—was in the mix. We also don’t know if looking at students with diagnoses other than autism would make a difference. Even so, it’s clear that something’s going on here. We can see that good intentions, valuing the device, and being trained in its use just isn’t enough. It looks like we need a broader conversation about barriers, including the practicalities of incorporating a device into daily activities and routines, especially at home. We definitely need to address operational competency and buy-in, but our families and other stakeholders are likely to need more support than that. The authors remind us to keep communication at the center of the conversation, rather than the technology. After all, the device is only the tool—communication is the point.

 

DeCarlo, J., Bean, A., Lyle, S., & Cargill, L. P. M. (2019). The Relationship Between Operational Competency, Buy-In, and Augmentative and Alternative Communication Use in School-Age Children With Autism. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. doi:10.1044/2018_AJSLP-17-0175

Human vs. machine: What’s better for prompting work tasks?

We’ve talked before about video prompting as an intriguing way to help older students with autism and/or intellectual disabilities learn new job tasks. To remind you, video prompts are similar to video modeling, except broken down into individual steps. So the student watches a video of the first part of the task, completes that step, watches the second step, and so on. This month, a new study compares video prompting directly to more traditional least-to-most prompting from a live person. Previous research on video prompting has often included least-to-most prompts in the intervention package as well, to increase the chances of success, and other studies comparing the approaches have had important limitations. Ideally, we want to prompt our students as little as possible, so it’s important to know what methods are most effective (result in the most learning) and most efficient (work faster, with fewer errors along the way).

Here, the researchers taught three middle-schoolers (12–15 years) with autism and moderate intellectual impairments* three office tasks: making a copy, sending a fax (old school!), and making a label for a file folder. For each student, one task was taught with video prompting, one with least-to-most prompting, and one was a control. For the video prompts, a series of brief clips (13–22 seconds), demonstrating each step in a task analysis, were pre-recorded and presented on an iPad. The videos showed someone’s hands doing each step of the tasks. Each clip ended with the instruction: “Now you do it.”

Based on a comparison of the two prompted tasks (and each student’s better method being introduced to the control tasks after an extended baseline), video prompting was both more efficient and more effective for 2 of the 3 students. For the other, least-to-most prompting worked better, but was still less efficient. Two of the students also preferred the videos to the least-to-most prompting. Interestingly, the teachers involved didn’t have a preference for video prompting, even though it worked well.

Now, let’s face it: video prompting is promising, but it takes more effort to prep than regular face-to-face prompting. Videos might be a good fit for job tasks that are likely to be taught many times, to many students, over months or years, since the videos can be reused—once they’re made, the workload is minimized. Also, for individual students who don’t react well to typical prompting procedures, the work up front could be worth the payoff.

*Two of the three were dually-diagnosed with Down Syndrome and ASD.

Aljehany, M. S., & Bennett, K. D. (2019). A Comparison of Video Prompting to Least-to-Most Prompting among Children with Autism and Intellectual Disability. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. doi:10.1007/s10803-019-03929-x

Girls vs. Boys: Communication differences in autism

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If you work with students with autism, chances are you’ve noticed some communication differences between the boys and girls on your caseload. But how do you quantify these differences? Do they impact treatment? Are they even real?

We’ve touched on this topic before, but there isn’t loads of research on it at the moment. This preliminary study by Sturrock et al. takes a deeper dive into examining the language and communication profiles of females and males with autism.

The study explored the language and communication skills of 9–11-year-old children with ASD and IQ scores in the average range*, compared to age and gender matched peers with typical development (TD). Within both groups, female and male performance were examined separately. Note that each of the four groups was relatively small (13 children per group). Overall, though, they found some surprising (and not so surprising) differences among the groups.

The ASD group as a whole scored about the same as the TD group on measures of expressive and receptive language. However, the authors did see a subtle deficit in the ASD group when it came to narrative language tasks (an issue we’ve discussed before).

But what about those gender-related differences? Well, it turns out that within the ASD group, females outperformed males in pragmatic language and semantic language tasks. However, females with ASD still lagged behind matched females with TD. Another interesting difference? Girls in general consistently scored better than boys on “language of emotion” tasks (like listing as many feeling/emotion words as possible in one minute).

So what we do with these preliminary findings? Primarily, this study can help you consider potential areas of strength and weakness to look out for during evaluation and treatment of children with ASD. Young females with ASD may need some pretty high-end support with pragmatic and narrative skills to communicate effectively with peers (and that support may further require careful attention to that child’s social group— hello, individualization!)

Additionally, the authors make the case that by increasing our awareness of the female ASD profile, a historically under-diagnosed and misdiagnosed condition, we may be able to help these girls get identified and get access to services sooner rather than later.

*The authors refer to this as High-Functioning Autism.

 

Sturrock, A., Yau, N., Freed, J., Adams, C. Speaking the same language? A preliminary investigation comparing the language and communication skills of females and males with High-Functioning Autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. doi: 10.1007/s10803-019-03920-6.

And more...

  • Accardo and colleagues provide an overview of effective writing interventions for school-age children with ASD. Most interventions took place in the classroom and used mixed approaches, combining “ingredients” like graphic organizers, video modeling, and constant time delay—a prompting strategy borrowed from ABA. Within the review, Tables 1 and 2 give an idea of what each one looked like, so check that out.

  • Baker & Blacher assessed behavior and social skills in 187 13-year-olds with ASD, intellectual disabilities (ID), or both. They found that having ID along with ASD was not associated with more behavior problems or less developed social skills as compared with ASD only.

  • Cerdán et al. found that eighth graders who had poor comprehension skills correctly answered reading comprehension questions more often when the question was followed by a rephrased, simplified statement telling them exactly what they needed to do.

  • Curran et al. found that preschool-aged children who are DHH and receive remote microphones systems in their homes have significantly better discourse skills (but no better vocabulary or syntax skills) than otherwise-matched children who don’t get those systems.

  • Facon & Magis found that language development, particularly vocabulary and syntax comprehension, does not plateau prematurely in people with Down Syndrome relative to people with other forms of intellectual disability. Language skills continue to show growth in both populations into early adulthood. (We’ve previously reviewed specific interventions that have resulted in language gains among older children and teens with Down Syndrome. )

  • Hu et al. suggest that computer-assisted instruction (CAI) can improve matching skills in school-age children with autism and other developmental disabilities. Although techy and exciting, CAI on its own isn’t enough—evidence-based instructional strategies like prompting and reinforcement have to be programmed in, too. This CAI used discrete trial training, and was more efficient (fewer prompts and less therapy time were needed for mastery!) than a traditional, teacher-implemented approach with flashcards.

  • Lim et al. found that the literacy instruction program MULTILIT was effective with school-age children with Down syndrome. MULTILIT combines phonics and sight word recognition instruction, geared toward children with students who are “Making Up Lost Time in Literacy” (MULTILIT; get it?). The program was implemented 1:1 for 12 weeks, and the students made gains in phonological awareness, word reading and spelling. MULTILIT has been investigated by the developers, but this is the first time it’s been studied by other researchers—and with kids with Down syndrome in particular.  Note: This article wasn’t fully reviewed because the training (provided only in Australia) is not available to the majority of our readers.

  • Muncy et al. surveyed SLPs and school psychologists and found that, in general, these professionals are underprepared to assess and treat children with hearing loss and other, co-occurring disabilities, and that they lack confidence in this area. Participants reported many barriers to valuable collaboration with other professionals, like audiologists (hint: there aren’t enough of them!), and that they want more training in this area.

  • Schlosser et al. found that 3–7 year old children with ASD accurately identified more animated symbols than static symbols. The animated symbols represented verbs; for example, depicting a person turning around versus a still line drawing of “turn around.” It makes sense to see action verbs—well—in action; however, researchers acknowledge we can’t make grid displays full of animated symbols since that could be overstimulating. The next step is to test the effects of animation on symbol identification with other more well-known symbols sets like PCS.

  • Scott et al. used science books and a signed dialogic reading program with an 11-year-old Deaf student, and found increases in the student’s ability to answer comprehension questions.

  • St John et al. found that 92% of their sample of children and adolescents with Klinefelter syndrome also had a communication impairment. Pragmatic, language, and literacy impairments were common, and the researchers described some speech impairments as well. Establishing a comprehensive communication profile for this group is important because we’re still learning about Klinefelter syndrome, which is caused by one or more extra X chromosomes.

  • Updates on PEERS, a structured social skills program for adolescents and young adults we’ve discussed before! Wyman & Claro used the school-based version of PEERS both with adolescents with ASD (the target audience) and those with intellectual disabilities (ID; an overlooked group in social skills research who may benefit nonetheless). Both groups of students improved their social knowledge, and the ID group (but not the ASD group) increased social interactions with friends outside of school. Meanwhile, Matthews et al. found that speeding up the traditional, clinic-based PEERS program, by offering it in 7 weeks (twice weekly sessions) instead of 14, didn’t reduce its effectiveness.

Accardo, A. L., Finnegan, E. G., Kuder, S. J., & Bomgardner, E. M. (2019). Writing Interventions for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Research Synthesis. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 1-19. doi:10.1007/s10803-019-03955-9

Baker, B. L., & Blacher, J. (2019). Brief Report: Behavior Disorders and Social Skills in Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Does IQ Matter? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. doi:10.1007/s10803-019-03954-w

Cerdán, R., Pérez, A., Vidal-Abarca, E., & Rouet, J. F. (2019). To answer questions from text, one has to understand what the question is asking: Differential effects of question aids as a function of comprehension skill. Reading and Writing. doi:10.1007/s11145-019-09943-w

Curran, M., Walker, E. A., Roush, P., & Spratford, M. (2019). Using Propensity Score Matching to Address Clinical Questions: The Impact of Remote Microphone Systems on Language Outcomes in Children Who Are Hard of Hearing. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. doi:10.1044/2018_JSLHR-L-ASTM-18-0238

Facon, B., & Magis, D. (2019). Does the development of syntax comprehension show a premature asymptote among persons with Down Syndrome? A cross-sectional analysis. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. doi: 10.1352/1944-7558-124.2.131

Hu, X., Lee, G. T., Tsai, Y, Yang, Y., & Cai, S. (2019). Comparing computer-assisted and teacher-implemented visual matching instruction for children with ASD and/or other DD. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. doi:10.1007/s10803-019-03978-2

Lim, L., Arciuli, J., Munro, N., & Cupples, L. (2019). Using the MULTILIT literacy instruction program with children who have Down syndrome. Reading and Writing. doi:10.1007/s11145-019-09945-8

Matthews, N. L., Laflin, J., Orr, B. C., Warriner, K., DeCarlo, M., & Smith, C. J. (2019). Brief Report: Effectiveness of an Accelerated Version of the PEERS® Social Skills Intervention for Adolescents. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. doi:10.1007/s10803-019-03939-9

Muncy, M. P., Yoho, S. E., & McClain, M. B. (2019). Confidence of School-Based Speech-Language Pathologists and School Psychologists in Assessing Students With Hearing Loss and Other Co-Occurring Disabilities. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools. doi:10.1044/2018_LSHSS-18-0091

Schlosser, R. W., Brock, K. L., Koul, R., Shane, H., & Flynn, S. (2019). Does animation facilitate understanding of graphic symbols representing verbs in children with autism spectrum disorder? Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. doi:10.1044/2018_JSLHR-L-18-0243

Scott, J. A., & Hansen, S. G. (2019). Comprehending science writing: The promise of dialogic reading for supporting upper elementary deaf students. Communication Disorders Quarterly. doi:10.1177/1525740119838253

St John, M., Ponchard, C., van Reyk, O., Mei, C., Pigdon, L., Amor, D. J., & Morgan, A. T. (2019). Speech and language in children with Klinefelter syndrome. Journal of Communication Disorders. doi:10.1016/j.jcomdis.2019.02.003 

Wyman, J., & Claro, A. (2019). The UCLA PEERS School-Based Program: Treatment Outcomes for Improving Social Functioning in Adolescents and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Those with Cognitive Deficits. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. doi:10.1007/s10803-019-03943-z

Developmental, naturalistic options for preschoolers with autism

There are many, many options for teaching pragmatic skills to children with autism, varying from structured discrete trial training (DTT) to more naturalistic, child-led interventions. Often we think of behavioral and naturalistic approaches to therapy as an either/or. In reality, though, the majority of the interventions available for young children with autism use a naturalistic approach, based on developmental principles, while also pulling in elements of behavioral theory (recently, autism researchers coined the term “naturalistic developmental behavioral intervention,” or NBDI, to reflect these nuances).

This systematic review focuses on developmental social pragmatic (DSP) interventions (similar to NBDIs, but not including any explicit prompting, which is a more behavioral strategy). The researchers carefully defined DSP interventions using a core set of criteria to make sure they pulled just the right group of studies. DSP interventions:

  • Are based on developmental principles (hence the name!)

  • Use natural/play-based settings in therapy

  • Follow the child’s lead

  • Emphasize environmental arrangement and natural communication opportunities, and

  • Avoid explicit prompting (“Say ‘More Blocks’!”)

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Although DSP interventions (like NDBIs) incorporate some behavioral principles, they are not DTT—we’re talking about less structured learning opportunities here. Need examples? Think SCERTS (social communication, emotional regulation, transactional support intervention), DIR (developmental, individual difference, relationship-based intervention), PACT (parent-mediated communication-focused treatment), and More Than Words.

There are a few ways you might use a review like this. Have an intervention in mind and want to see if it made the list? Want to learn more about the evidence base for the intervention your school or clinic is already using? Or maybe you want to look into a new and different intervention for preschoolers with ASD? Whatever your purposes, keep in mind that (as with many systematic reviews and meta analyses) it’s a bit apple-and-oranges to compare the kids’ language outcomes across studies— we need more research to be able to say which DSP interventions lead to the biggest language gains. The results show us, though, that these interventions in general had positive effects on attention, engagement in social interactions, and initiations for preschoolers with ASD. Parent interaction styles improved, too, becoming less directive and more responsive. We love seeing outcomes like that! Overall, this article is a nice place to start organizing your thoughts on the many developmental social pragmatic options available for treating preschoolers with autism. 

Binns, A. V., & Oram Cardy, J. (2019). Developmental social pragmatic interventions for preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review. Autism and Developmental Language Impairments. doi:10.1177/2396941518824497

And more

Hwa-Froelich & Matsuo found that children who were adopted internationally had pragmatic skills within the average range, yet their scores were lower than their non-adopted, typically-developing peers. Understanding the language skill profiles of children adopted internationally is important so that we don’t over-refer or misdiagnose these kids. P.S. We’ve reviewed this team’s research with this same population before here.

In the largest study of its kind to date, Potter, Nievergelt, & VanDam found that children with speech sound disorders have similar tongue strength as their typically-developing peers. This study adds to the evidence base that disputes the use of non-speech oral motor exercises in speech therapy.

Rivera Pérez et al. wondered whether monolingual SLPs could use audio prompting (i.e., pre-recorded stimuli in the home language) to facilitate vocabulary learning in Spanish–English bilingual preschoolers with typical language abilities. Children were taught vocabulary in either English only or in both English and audio prompt-delivered Spanish. All children learned English vocabulary, and only the group receiving audio prompting improved on Spanish vocabulary measures, suggesting audio prompting may help improvement in the home language. We should note that their design didn’t compare the English-only and English-plus-audio-prompting conditions and participants were typically developing children taught by SLPs. Still, more research like this could help identify ways SLPs can better serve their bilingual students. Exciting! 

Roberts et al. found positive effects of teaching preschoolers (including some dual language learners) letter name and letter–sound correspondence. No surprise there—we know how important that skill is! It is interesting that they found no advantage for teaching letter names before letter sounds: the jury’s still out on whether one should be taught before the other.

A study by Sue et al. reminds us to consider generalization not only across contexts but across receptive–expressive language modalities. In a single case design on vocabulary training in children with ASD, where children were taught a set of words either receptively or expressively, they found that some but not all of those words taught were acquired in the untrained modality. More expressive-to-receptive transfer was noted—which makes a lot of sense. There are still open questions about the optimal teaching order (if there is one) and what the implications are for dosage.

 

Hwa-Froelich, D. A., & Matsuo, H. (2019). Pragmatic language performance of children adopted internationally. American Journal of Speech–Language Pathology. doi:10.1044/2018_AJSLP-18-0075

Potter, N. L., Nievergelt, Y., & VanDam, M. (2019). Tongue strength in children with and without speech sound disorders. American Journal of Speech–Language Pathology. doi:10.1044/2018_AJSLP-18-0023

Rivera Pérez, J. F., Creaghead, N. A., Washington, K., Guo, Y., Raisor-Becker, L., & Combs, S. (2019). Using Audio Prompting to Assist Monolingual Speech–Language Pathologists to Teach English–Spanish Vocabulary to English Learners. Communication Disorders Quarterly. doi:10.1177/2F1525740118819659

Roberts, T. A., Vadasy, P. F., & Sanders, E. A. (2019). Preschoolers’ alphabet learning: Cognitive, teaching sequence, and English proficiency influences. Reading Research Quarterly. doi:10.1002/rrq.242

Su, P. L., Castle, G., & Camarata, S. (2019). Cross-modal generalization of receptive and expressive vocabulary in children with autism spectrum disorder. Autism & Developmental Language Impairments. doi:10.1177/2F2396941518824495