Developmental and Augmented Intervention for Facilitating Expressive Language

Principal Investigator: Rebecca Landa

Children who do not communicate with spoken words or an augmentative/alternative communication system are an underserved group among those with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Because caregivers are integral to their children’s development, the treatment will be taught to the caregiver in order for them to, in turn, teach the joint attention/joint engagement skills that may facilitate better language and social outcomes for their children. This study will contrast two experimental treatment conditions by testing whether joint attention/joint engagement intervention using spoken communication (JAE-EMT) results in better outcomes than joint attention/joint engagement intervention that is instead supplemented with an individualized augmentative and alternative communication system (JAE-AAC). Both treatments will be manualized and a novel research design method called Sequential Multiple Assignment Randomized Trial (SMART) will be applied. SMART design will allow the interventionists to adjust the course of treatment based on whether the children respond to the treatment. More specifically, there will be two stages of intervention and during Stage 1, 90 nonverbal (e.g. those who have less than 5 spoken words) children with ASD between 5 and 8 years of age will be randomly assigned to either the JAE-EMT or JAE-AAC group. After receiving the assigned Stage 1 treatment for 12 weeks, all participants will be assessed to see if they responded to the Stage 1 treatment. If the children do respond to Stage 1 treatment, they will continue with that same treatment for another 12 weeks in Stage 2. A different treatment sequence will be used for those who do not respond to Stage 1 treatment where these non-responders will be re-assigned to 1 of 3 alternative intervention conditions. For example, those who do not respond to JAE-AAC will have the intensity of that same JAE-AAC treatment increased. Those who do not respond to the other, JAE-EMT treatment will be randomly assigned to either a more intense JAE-EMT condition, or the original JAE-AAC implemented in Stage 1. At the end of Stage 2, another follow-up assessment of cognitive, language, and social communication skills will be administered. Furthermore, several children who enter the study in the early stages will be tested again, 3 months after the Stage 2 follow up (not all children will be able to be tested at 9 months within the 3 year grant period).