It’s 10 AM: Do you know where your gym teacher is?

When you hear “cotreatment,” what other professionals spring to mind? OTs? PTs? How about your friendly neighborhood adapted phys ed teacher? In this study, an SLP and an adapted PE teacher (I’m guessing they don’t like to be called APEs?) teamed up to teach concept vocabulary to 10 pre-kindergarteners with Down Syndrome.

Why target vocabulary in gym class? A couple of reasons. One, having physical experiences related to a new word increases the semantic richness of the learning—something that we know helps kids. Two, a branch of developmental theory (dynamic systems theory, if you’re interested!) holds that language and motor skills develop in a coordinated, interconnected way. Plus? Getting up and moving during your vocab lesson is fun!

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Each week, five different concept words were targeted by the SLP only, the adapted PE teacher only, or both in a co-treatment condition. Teaching occurred in 30-minute large group lessons, four days per week for nine weeks total. Check out the article for specifics about what the lessons looked like in each condition—the key thing is that with co-treatment, the kids got to demonstrate receptive understanding of the concepts through a variety of gross motor actions.

Overall, the intervention had a weak effect with only the PE teacher (makes sense, since teaching words isn’t the point of gym), and a medium effect if the SLP was involved. Out of the ten children, four learned more concepts in co-treatment weeks as compared to weeks when the SLP or PE teacher worked alone. The other six did about the same either way. The authors noticed that the kids who learned better in co-treatment were the children with the highest non-verbal intelligence scores and better ability to use effortful control (so, for example, stopping when a grownup says to stop), but more research is needed to draw strong conclusions from those results. Big picture, here? This type of co-treatment, when done thoughtfully and collaboratively, doesn’t hurt and may help some kids. Also, when many of us are trying to get out of the therapy room and treat kids where they are, bringing intervention to gym class makes a lot of sense from a “least restrictive” point of view. And once again… it’s fun!

 

Lund, E., Young, A., & Yarbrough, R. (2019). The Effects of Co-Treatment on Concept Development in Children With Down Syndrome. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 1525740119827264. doi:10.1177/1525740119827264

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

Diagnosing DLD when you don’t speak a child’s first language

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We know that it’s best to assess children in their first languages. But, we simply don’t have access to measures or interpreters for all of the world’s languages. What’s a monolingual SLP to do?

New research supports what we’ve discussed previously: that by using parent questionnaires and measures of language processing, we can accurately diagnose language disorders in English language learners using only English measures. Li’el et al. recruited a sample of bilingual and monolingual Australian English-speaking 5- to 6-year-old children with and without developmental language disorder (DLD). “Bilingual” was defined as hearing English less than half the time at home. Parents completed a questionnaire and children completed the CTOPP nonword repetition and CELF-P2 recalling sentences subtests.

The researchers found that the parent questionnaire alone had the highest sensitivity and specificity (accuracy at ruling in and ruling out DLD). However, all of the assessments in combination still had good diagnostic accuracy, and it’s not a good idea to diagnose a child with only one test, so the authors recommend using more than one measure.

Overall, this study adds to evidence that by interviewing parents and using language processing tasks, we can do a pretty good job teasing apart a lack of English exposure from an underlying language disorder even if we can’t assess in a child’s first language.

 

Li’el, N., Williams, C. & Kane, R. (2018). Identifying developmental language disorder in bilingual children from diverse linguistic backgrounds. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/17549507.2018.1513073

Grammar instruction for students with complex needs

When you think about therapy with students with complex needs, you might be thinking about prepping materials… lots of materials. But it doesn’t need to be that way! If you’re in the business of targeting grammatical structures with these types of students, read on to learn more about an intervention that includes simple visual supports that will keep your instruction explicit and consistent.

This pilot study used Shape Coding to target copula and auxiliary “be,” including plural and past tense marking. Shape Coding instruction uses shapes, colors, and arrows to make grammatical structures more salient. Want to see what we mean? You can get an overview of Shape Coding system here or check out our review of an oldie-but-goodie throwback article on Shape Coding here. The participants were 11 young teen students with Down syndrome or developmental delays. Some had secondary diagnoses such as hearing impairment or ADHD or spoke English as an additional language.

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After just eight 20-minute group sessions led by their school-based SLPs, most of the students (8/11) made gains that could be attributed to the treatment. For a diverse group of complex students, and a pretty short course of realistic-looking intervention? That is big news!

We highly recommend reading this full article. For one, you’ll get familiar with the ins and outs of Shape Coding. A full list of the intervention steps and materials needed is included as an Appendix. Also? It’ll fire up your inner advocate when the authors discuss the importance of including people with complex needs in research. They remind us that heterogeneity among this population “does not negate the need for more research in this area”—and we couldn’t agree more!

Tobin, L. M., & Ebbels, S. H. (2018). Effectiveness of intervention with visual templates targeting tense and plural agreement in copula and auxiliary structures in school-aged children with complex needs: A pilot study. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080.02699206.2018.1501608.

TIP: If you don’t have access to the original article, above, try here.

Modeling AAC is an evidence-based practice (officially)

Before you say anything — we know. This is an obvious fact to anyone who’s been paying attention in the AAC world for quite some time. However, there are still times when it’s helpful to have clear, scientific evidence to share with those who aren’t, shall we say, on board. Evidence like a recent systematic review, for instance? Voilà!

This new study synthesized the available research on direct teaching strategies** that support symbol learning and aided language expression for AAC users, and found four strategies they identify as “potentially effective.” They looked at 15 studies that met their criteria for participants, intervention type, outcome measures, and study quality.

Important note: They specifically did not look at AAC users with autism.  The studies in the review included children up to age 18, with better receptive than expressive language, and “no more than a moderate intellectual disability.” The most frequent diagnoses represented were cerebral palsy and Down Syndrome.

These four strategies were supported by the evidence:

  1. Aided AAC modeling (8 studies)
  2. Narrative-based interventions (4 studies, limited by small number of participants and variation among studies)
  3. An “eclectic” approach, including increased communication opportunities, modeling, and least-to-most prompting (1 study)
  4. Mand-Model (2 studies) E.g., Child is interested in a ball. Clinician models, “That’s a BALL.” Prompts child to say “Ball,” possibly using a cueing hierarchy. Child gets the ball.
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A few things to keep in mind: First, these strategies are not mutually exclusive, and overlap to some degree; they all include some aspect of modeling. Second, we can’t say anything at this point about whether one of these methods is more effective than another, and it could be that certain strategies might work better at specific stages (when a device is first introduced, for example, to teach a specific language skill, or with a very young child). Finally, it’s pretty tricky to make comparisons between studies, since so many different terms can be used for the same, or similar, procedures (modeling, aided language input, aided language stimulation, etc.). Different people define these procedures in different ways—a fixed ratio of statements to questions, for example, or a minimum expectation of how many utterances are also modeled on the device.

Fun Fact! Did you know that there’s a rule of thumb to determine if an intervention can be *officially* considered evidence-based, on the basis of single-subject or small studies? Horner et al. (2005) say you want to find:

  • At least five peer-reviewed studies (well-designed ones!)
  • By at least three different people
  • In at least three geographic locations
  • With at least 20 subjects total

Based on these criteria, and the findings of the review, aided AAC modeling is an evidence-based practice. There wasn’t enough evidence available for the narrative-based, eclectic, or mand-model strategies to meet this threshold.

For systematic review articles like this one, the gold for clinicians is often the big ol’ summary table (Table 1). It’s a quick way to see which of the included studies are directly relevant to YOU, by breaking out details like who the participants were, the AAC systems they used, the type and dosage of the intervention, and the outcome measures. Plus, the authors have already screened these studies for quality, which can be reassuring if you aren’t super confident about assessing this yourself. If you want to learn more about specific intervention procedures for specific clients, this paper has done your searching for you.

**So—not things like communication partner training, which is also good.

Lynch, Y., McCleary, M., & Smith, M. (2018). Instructional strategies used in direct AAC interventions with children to support graphic symbol learning: A systematic review. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 34(1), 23–36. doi: 10.1177/0265659018755524.