Minimally Verbal School-Aged Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: The Neglected End of the Spectrum

Department of Psychology, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts.
Autism Research (Impact Factor: 4.33). 12/2013; 6(6). DOI: 10.1002/aur.1329
Source: PubMed


It is currently estimated that about 30% of children with autism spectrum disorder remain minimally verbal, even after receiving years of interventions and a range of educational opportunities. Very little is known about the individuals at this end of the autism spectrum, in part because this is a highly variable population with no single set of defining characteristics or patterns of skills or deficits, and in part because it is extremely challenging to provide reliable or valid assessments of their developmental functioning. In this paper, we summarize current knowledge based on research including minimally verbal children. We review promising new novel methods for assessing the verbal and nonverbal abilities of minimally verbal school-aged children, including eye-tracking and brain-imaging methods that do not require overt responses. We then review what is known about interventions that may be effective in improving language and communication skills, including discussion of both nonaugmentative and augmentative methods. In the final section of the paper, we discuss the gaps in the literature and needs for future research. Autism Res 2013, ●●: ●●-●●. © 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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Available from: Helen Tager-Flusberg, Oct 27, 2015
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    • "Some have also grouped samples into categories, using speech samples from measures such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (Lord et al., 2000). It is important both to include observations of a child's language in making such categorizations (Kasari, Brady, Lord, & Tager-Flusberg 2013), and also to understand how these categories map onto scores from standardized language measures. Further, the use of categorical variables alone has several attendant limitations, including decreased statistical power, which may be exacerbated by the relatively small sample sizes used in studies of autism. "
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    ABSTRACT: BackgroundA significant minority of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are considered ‘minimally verbal’ due to language development stagnating at a few words. Recent developments allow for the severity of ASD symptoms to be examined using Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) Social Affect (SA) and Restricted and Repetitive Behaviors (RRB) domain severity scores. The aim of the current study was to explore language outcomes in a cohort of minimally verbal children with autism evaluated through the preschool years and determine if and how ASD symptom severity in core domains predicts the development of spoken language by age 5.Methods The sample consisted of 70 children with autism aged 1–5 years at the first evaluation who were examined at least 1 year later, during their fifth year of age. The ADOS overall level of language item was used to categorize children as minimally verbal or having phrase speech, and the Mullen Scales of Early Learning was used as a continuous measure of expressive language.ResultsAt Time 1, 65% (n = 47) of children in the sample were minimally verbal and by Time 2, 36% (n = 17 of 47) of them had developed phrase speech. While the Time 1 ADOS calibrated severity scores did not predict whether or not a child remained minimally verbal at Time 2, change in the SA calibrated severity score (but not RRB) was predictive of the continuous measure of expressive language. However, change in SA severity no longer predicted continuous expressive language when nonverbal cognitive ability was added to the model.Conclusions Findings indicate that the severity of SA symptoms has some relationship with continuous language outcome, but not categorical. However, the omnipresent influence of nonverbal cognitive ability was confirmed in the current study, as the addition of it to the model rendered null the predictive utility of SA severity.
    Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 06/2014; 56(1). DOI:10.1111/jcpp.12285 · 6.46 Impact Factor
  • Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 06/2014; 53(6):612–613. DOI:10.1016/j.jaac.2014.04.005 · 7.26 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Objective: This study tested the effect of beginning treatment with a speech-generating device (SGD) in the context of a blended, adaptive treatment design for improving spontaneous, communicative utterances in school-aged, minimally verbal children with autism. Method: A total of 61 minimally verbal children with autism, aged 5 to 8 years, were randomized to a blended developmental/behavioral intervention (JASP+EMT) with or without the augmentation of a SGD for 6 months with a 3-month follow-up. The intervention consisted of 2 stages. In stage 1, all children received 2 sessions per week for 3 months. Stage 2 intervention was adapted (by increased sessions or adding the SGD) based on the child's early response. The primary outcome was the total number of spontaneous communicative utterances; secondary measures were the total number of novel words and total comments from a natural language sample. Results: Primary aim results found improvements in spontaneous communicative utterances, novel words, and comments that all favored the blended behavioral intervention that began by including an SGD (JASP+EMT+SGD) as opposed to spoken words alone (JASP+EMT). Secondary aim results suggest that the adaptive intervention beginning with JASP+EMT+SGD and intensifying JASP+EMT+SGD for children who were slow responders led to better posttreatment outcomes. Conclusion: Minimally verbal school-aged children can make significant and rapid gains in spoken spontaneous language with a novel, blended intervention that focuses on joint engagement and play skills and incorporates an SGD. Future studies should further explore the tailoring design used in this study to better understand children's response to treatment. Clinical trial registration information-Developmental and Augmented Intervention for Facilitating Expressive Language (CCNIA);; NCT01013545.
    Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 06/2014; 53(6). DOI:10.1016/j.jaac.2014.01.019 · 7.26 Impact Factor
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