International Meeting for Autism Research: The Use of a Digital Language Processor to Examine the Effectiveness of a Parent-Training Aimed at Improving the Language Learning Environments of Children with Autism

The Use of a Digital Language Processor to Examine the Effectiveness of a Parent-Training Aimed at Improving the Language Learning Environments of Children with Autism

Thursday, May 20, 2010
Franklin Hall B Level 4 (Philadelphia Marriott Downtown)
9:00 AM
S. Patterson , Educational Psychology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada
V. Smith , Educational Psychology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, BC, Canada
Background: There is evidence that parent-training programs are effective in improving the communication and language skills of young children with language delay (Law, Garrett, & Nye, 2004). However, we know very little about the language learning environments of young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and whether parent-training programs are effective in enhancing language development for these children. The purpose of this pilot study was to examine the viability of utilizing a digital language processor (DLP; Infoture, 2006) to explore the effect of parent-training on the interactions between parents and their toddlers with ASD. In order to obtain child communicative data in the child's natural environment and lessen the confounding factors presented by artificial laboratory situations, the DLP allows for data capture in unstructured environments (Gilkerson & Richards, 2009). However, this technology has not been used to assess the effect of parent communication training.

Objectives: Specific questions addressed in this pilot study include: (1) what is the base frequency and amount of communicative interaction between toddlers with autism and their parent(s)? (2) to what degree does a parent education program influence the nature and frequency of communicative interactions?

Methods: Seven families and their children (age 29-39 months) were recruited from a local agency providing the More Than Words (MTW) program (The Hanen Centre, 2007), a parent-training program in early language development. Parent-child interaction data were collected over a four month period including measures prior to, during, and immediately after participation in the parent-training program as well as at two month follow up. The DLP was utilized to obtain estimates of the following: (a) number of adult words, (b) number of child vocalizations, and (c) number of conversational turns.

Results: Children entered the study with developmental ages ranging from 6m to 32m and on average gained 9m in developmental age. Frequency of adult communication did not appear to be related to the child's level of expressive language. Families demonstrated a range of communicative frequencies from approximately 5400 to nearly 21000 adult words spoken and from approximately 180-680 conversational turns across a 12 hour day. Overall, families with parents of higher levels of education (i.e., advanced degrees) engaged in higher daily talk frequencies. Patterns of family talk across the child's day differed between families but were found to remain relatively constant within families across time points. The majority of families demonstrated increased communicative frequencies immediately post engagement in parent training. Few families demonstrated maintenance of these gains at two-month follow up.

Conclusions: Results revealed a wide variability in both base frequencies of communicative interaction and response to the parent-training program. The results of this study will add to our understanding of the use of DLP technology to capture the effects of early language parent-training programs. This study is currently being extended to explore whether providing families with feedback regarding the amount and pattern of their daily communicative interactions using the data collected from the DLP, will increase parents' use of language facilitation strategies provided in the MTW program.

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