International Meeting for Autism Research (London, May 15-17, 2008): Eliciting Sentence Production In Nonverbal Children With Autism

Eliciting Sentence Production In Nonverbal Children With Autism

Friday, May 16, 2008: 11:30 AM
Mancy (Novotel London West)
M. McGonigle , Psychology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Background: This research is an extension of computer touchscreen assessments of executive control in children with autism (Chalmers-McGonigle et al, 2007; McGonigle and Chalmers, 2002), and is based on the finding that elementary sequential skills could be elicited in minimally verbal and nonverbal children with such techniques, indicating a possible latent capability for ‘sentence' production. Objectives: The hypothesis tested in the current study was that the sequential skills of nonverbal children with autism could be elicited in the form of elementary sentence production provided a) that the context was not socially demanding, and b) that a strong learning incentive is provided. Methods: An entertaining touchscreen game, the ‘Eventaurs' was developed, in which nonverbal, severely echolalic and minimally verbal children aged between 7 and 14 years are encouraged to make grammatically appropriate sentences by touching pictographs displayed randomly on the screen. These are divided into actors (e.g. pirate, dinosaur, robot), actions (e.g. jump, fly, spin) and prepositions (with and on). When touched in the correct order, the touch icons are followed by an animated version of the events they describe (e.g. monkey kisses pirate). Only syntactically correct sequences produce events, incorrect sequences or long delays between touches have no animated consequences. Results: All children (n=7) exceeded their production length, within six sessions, as measured against their expressive language as well as the Picture Exchange System used in school. Some entirely nonverbal children proceeded to three-word strings such as ‘monkey kisses pirate' and one to four word strings such as ‘dinosaur dances with wizard'. Conclusions: Focussing on non-social routes to syntactic development in children with autism could provide an important platform for building on their communicative development by allowing them to discover for themselves the power of language production in order to ‘make things happen'.
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