Study finds personalized approach enhances communication skills in children with autism

by Kathy Wyer
Study finds personalized approach enhances communication skills in children with autism

(Medical Xpress)—A UCLA-led study has found that the communication skills of minimally verbal children with autism can be greatly improved through personalized interventions that are combined with the use of computer tablets.

The three-year study examined different approaches to improving abilities among children with and minimal verbal skills. Approximately 30 percent of children with ASD overall remain minimally verbal even after years of intervention.

UCLA professor Connie Kasari, the paper's senior author, worked with researchers at Vanderbilt University and the Kennedy Krieger Institute. They found that children's language skills greatly improved when spoken- and social-communication therapy was tailored based on their individual progress and delivered using computer tablets.

The trial involved 61 children with ASD, ages 5 to 8. For six months, each child received communication therapy focusing on social communication gestures, such as pointing, as well as play skills and spoken language.

Half of the children were randomly selected to also use speech-generating applications on computer tablets for at least half of the time during their sessions. The tablets were programmed with audio clips of words the children were learning about during their therapy sessions and images of the corresponding objects. Working with a therapist, the child could tap a picture of a block, for example, and the tablet would play audio of the word "block."

The researchers found that children who had access to the tablets during therapy were more likely to use language spontaneously and socially than the children who received the communication intervention alone—and that incorporating the at the beginning of the treatment was more effective than introducing it later in the therapy.

"It was remarkable how well the tablet worked in providing access to communication for these children," said Kasari, professor of human development and psychology in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and professor of psychiatry at UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. "Children who received the behavioral intervention along with the tablet to support their communication attempts made much faster progress in learning to communicate, and especially in using spoken language."

Researchers also conducted follow-up visits with the children three months after the initial study period and found that their improvement had been maintained during that time.

The study was the first ASD research to use a sequential multiple assignment randomized trial, or SMART, design. The approach, which enables researchers to tailor interventions according to how each child in the study responds, was designed by Daniel Almirall and Susan Murphy, biostatisticians at the University of Michigan who were members of the research team. It also was the first randomized, controlled trial on this underserved population of to use a computer tablet combined with an effective behavioral intervention.

More information: "Communication Interventions for Minimally Verbal Children With Autism: A Sequential Multiple Assignment Randomized Trial" Connie Kasari, Ann Kaiser, Kelly Goods, Jennifer Nietfeld, Pamela Mathy, Rebecca Landa, Susan Murphy, Daniel Almirall. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry - June 2014 (Vol. 53, Issue 6, Pages 635-646, DOI: 10.1016/j.jaac.2014.01.019)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Children with autism benefit from early, intensive therapy

Sep 28, 2011

A primary characteristic of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is impairments in social-communication skills. Children and adolescents with social-communication problems face difficulty understanding, interacting and relating ...

Recommended for you

Planning a better future for people with autism

Aug 27, 2014

In the world of special education, transition is the move from school to adult life. For most of us that move can be awkward, but for people with disabilities—particularly autism—it is especially complex.

Are three brain imaging techniques better than one?

Aug 22, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—Many recent imaging studies have shown that in children with autism, different parts of the brain do not connect with each other in typical ways. Initially, most researchers thought that ...

Adults with autism at higher risk of sexual victimization

Aug 14, 2014

Adults with autism are at a higher risk of sexual victimization than adults without, due to lack of sex education, but with improved interventions that focus on sexual knowledge and skill building, the risk could be reduced, ...

Autism rates steady for two decades

Aug 14, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—A University of Queensland study has found no evidence of an increase in autism in the past 20 years, countering reports that the rates of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are on the rise.

User comments