Optimizing Social and Communication Outcomes for Young Children with Autism

Principal Investigator: Rebecca Landa

The overarching goal of the proposed project is to rigorously test an intervention program for caregivers and their toddlers with autism that is developmentally informed, child-centered and focused on joint attention, a core deficit in young children with autism. Despite the developmental importance of joint attention, current interventions in autism rarely target joint attention skills in children. These interventions remain focused on decreasing maladaptive behaviors, and increasing adaptive behaviors. The current study will examine the effectiveness of a new type of intervention framework for children with autism based upon developmental literature. This intervention approach differs significantly from current standard practices in treating children with autism, which are mostly based upon the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis.

Direct intervention with parents (caregiver-mediated model) will be compared to educational consultation with parents (caregiver-education model) for toddlers (aged 23 months to 52 months) and their caregivers who will be randomized to one of the two caregiver conditions. Treatment will consist of approximately weekly contact over 24 weeks with assessments at 12 weeks and at 24 weeks. Outcome will be assessed using both direct child assessments and parent questionnaires regarding the child's behavior. Since parents play a critical role in their child's development, an effective caregiver intervention with a focus on core deficits of autism may results in better language, and ultimately, better social outcomes for children with autism.