Past Research Projects

Expressive language intervention

Characterizing Cognition in Nonverbal Individuals with ASD: Developmental and Augmented Intervention for Facilitating Expressive Language

Nickname: CCNIA
Date: July 2009 – July 2012
Participants: Children 5 to 8 years classified as nonverbal with ASD
Funding: Autism Speaks
Clinic Trials: NCT01013545
In the news:

Summary: This study contrasted the effectiveness of two forms of joint attention and joint engagement interventions aimed at improving social communication in children 5 to 8 years old with ASD. The interventions varied in the form of communication the interventionists used: the first method, JASP-EMT, relied on spoken language to communicate with the child, and the second method, JAE-AAC, used an AAC device.

Social and communication intervention for toddlers

Optimizing Social and Communication Outcomes for Toddlers with Autism

Nickname: Toddler
Date: July 2008 - July 2012
Participants: Caregivers and toddlers ages 18 to 36 months with ASD
Funding: Autism Speaks
Clinic Trials: NCT00999778

Summary: The study examined the effectiveness of two treatment methods aimed at improving social and communication skills in toddlers with autism. In the first method, caregiver-mediated intervention, the caregiver and toddler met with an interventionist to work on social communication and joint engagement strategies. In the second method, caregiver-education intervention, caregivers received information about child development from an interventionist and discussed its applicability to their child.

Joint attention intervention for nonverbal children

Joint Attention Intervention for Nonverbal Children with Autism

Nickname: OAR
Participants: 3 to 5 year old minimally-verbal children with ASD attending non-public school
Funding: OARAutism Speaks grant 5666, NICHDHRSA UA3MC11055

Summary: This is pilot study tested the effects of a novel intervention, JASPER, on 3 to 5 year old, minimally verbal children with autism who were attending a non-public preschool. Participants were randomized to a Control Group with treatment as usual of ABA-based therapy twice per week, or a Treatment Group, substitution of 30 min of JASPER treatment, twice weekly during their regular program.

Results: Participants in the treatment group demonstrated greater play diversity on a standardized assessment and initiated more gestures and spent less time unengaged in the classroom. These results provide further support that even brief, targeted interventions on joint attention and play can improve core deficits in minimally verbal children with ASD.

AIR-B: Social and communication intervention for young children

AIR-B: Social and Communication Outcomes for Young Children with Autism

Nickname: AIR-B Network, HRSA 1
Date: April 2009 – December 2011
Participants: Caregivers and children 24 to 60 months, low SES and racial/ethnic minorities
Funding: HRSA
Clinic Trials: NCT00953095

Summary: This study tested an intervention program targeting social communication for caregivers and their young children with ASD, specifically those in underserved populations (low socioeconomic status or racial, ethnic minority). In the first method, the Caregiver Mediated Model (CMM) the caregiver and child met with an interventionist to learn techniques for improving the child’s language, social, and play development, specifically using joint attention and engagement strategies. In the second method, the Caregiver Education Model (CEM), the caregiver and child met with an interventionist to learn information about autism, behavior modification, and community services, and discuss the information in regards to their child.

Get more information about this project at the AIR-B Network website.

AIR-B: Peer relationships in school

AIR-B: Study of Peer Relationships at School

Nickname: AIR-B NetworkHRSA 2
Date: September 2009 - August 2012
Participants: Children ages 7 to 12 in grades 2-5 with ASD
Funding: HRSA
Clinic Trials: NCT01011764

Summary: This study compared the effect of two school-based interventions designed to improve social outcomes for young children with autism. All interventions and observations took place at the child's school in a group setting during lunch time. The SKILLS intervention targeted a specific set of social skills and was delivered to a small group of children with autism at school during lunch. The ENGAGE intervention focused on peer acceptance and social engagement with peers and was delivered to a group of children with autism and their typically developing peers.

Get more information about this project at the AIR-B Network website.

AIR-B: Study of Teen relationships at school

AIR-B: Study of Teen Relationships at School

Nickname: AIR-B NetworkHRSA 4
Participants: Adolescents 13 to 19 years with high functioning autism
Funding: HRSA

Summary: This study compared the effects of two school-based group interventions designed to improve social outcomes in adolescents 13 to 19 years with high functioning autism. The SKILLS intervention utilized a social skills curriculum and was delivered to a small group of teens with autism at their school. The ENGAGE intervention delivered a social engagement curriculum at the teen's school site and included peers with autism as well as typically developing peers from the same school.

Get more information about this project at the AIR-B Network website.

Social intervention in the school setting

Peer Acceptance and Social Engagement in the School Setting

Nickname: Manhattan Beach

Summary: This study aimed to develop an effective school-based intervention program for children with ASD that targeted peer acceptance and social engagement in peer relationships. The goal was to improve the children’s social skills, academic engagement, and connectivity to peers. The Social Skills Program involved an after school group-intervention as well as social activities embedded during the school day.

Communication intervention for toddlers

Promoting Development in Toddlers with Communication Delays

Nickname: Infant
Date: April 2007 – October 2011
Participants: Parents and their children between 15 and 30 months with communication delays
Funding: Autism Speaks
Clinic Trials: NCT01012076

Summary: This study evaluated a parent education program that targeted toddlers’ communication skills during playtime in the home. The active control condition followed an illustrated workbook for parents and used individualized video-feedback, modeling, and coaching strategies to help parents establish play interactions that promote communication. The parent education program covered a hierarchy of intervention topics with parents, aiming to improve the parents' ability to successfully promote the child's social and emotional competency. The goal was to identify causal factors that determine the developmental course of toddlers who showed communication delays consistent with autism.

Peer intervention with children with ASD

Peer Related Interventions in Autism

Nickname: Peer
Participants: 60 Children ages 6 to 11 with ASD in regular classrooms
Funding: NIMH 5-U54-MH-068172, HRSA UA3MC11055
Clinic Trials: NCT00095420

Summary: This study compared different intervention approaches for improving the social skills of high functioning children with ASD in general education classrooms. The first approach, Child-assisted (CHILD), sought to help children with ASD develop strategies to engage socially with their peers, using didactic instruction, role playing, and practice with the interventionist. In the second approach, Peer-mediated (PEER), typically developing children from the target child’s classroom met in a group format with a trained interventionist to learn ways to interact with children who had difficulty making friends. The third approach, (CHILD + PEER), was a combination of the first two interventions, with participants with and without autism receiving a combination treatment of social skills and education about autism. Children assigned to the fourth approach, (treatment as usual), received the usual training offered in their local school districts.

Results: Our data suggest that significant improvements can be made in peer social connections for children with ASD in general education classrooms with a brief intervention and that these gains persist over time. Significant improvements were found in social network salience, number of friendship nominations, teacher report of social skills in the classroom, and decreased isolation on the playground for children who received PEER interventions. Changes obtained at the end of the treatment persisted to the three-month follow-up.

Joint Attention and Symbolic Play in Young Children with Autism

Joint Attention and Symbolic Play in Young Children with Autism

Nickname: JASP
Participants: Children 3 to 4 years with ASD

Summary: In this study, we examined the efficacy of targeted interventions of joint attention and symbolic play. Participants were randomized to a joint attention intervention, a symbolic play intervention, or a control group. The joint attention intervention focused on teaching joint attention skills through imitating the child and engineered play routines. The symbolic play intervention focused on improving symbolic play skills through object combinations that were increasingly more symbolic, but were not contingent on shared attention between adult and child.  

Results: This randomized controlled trial provides promising data on the specificity and generalizability of joint attention and play interventions for young children with autism. Children in the joint attention intervention initiated significantly more showing and responsiveness to joint attention and more child-initiated joint attention. The children in the play group showed more diverse types of symbolic play and higher play levels.

Improving Attention Skills of Children with Autism

Nickname: Caregiver
Date: September 2001 – January 2006
Participants: 38 caregivers and their toddlers with autism; Children 12 to 36 months with ASD
Clinical Trials: NCT00065910

Summary: This study aimed to determine if a joint attention intervention would result in greater joint engagement between caregivers and toddlers with autism. Participants were randomized to an immediate treatment group or a waitlist control group that underwent a waiting period of 8 weeks. The intervention sessions included the caregiver and child engaging in play routines with coaching from an interventionist. Each caregiver–child dyad received direct instruction, modeling, guided practice, and feedback from the interventionist in each session.

Results: The immediate treatment group made significant improvements in targeted areas of joint engagement compared to caregivers and toddlers randomized to the waitlist control group. The immediate treatment group demonstrated significant improvements with medium to large effect sizes in their responsiveness to joint attention and their diversity of functional play acts after the intervention, with maintenance of these skills 1 year post-intervention. These are among the first randomized controlled data to suggest that short-term parent-mediated interventions can have important effects on core impairments in toddlers with autism.

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