The literature and our preliminary studies have identified marked deficits in self-initiations in young children with autism (e.g., Koegel, Koegel, Frea, & Fredeen, 2001). Researchers believe that interventions effectively targeting these early social communication behaviors in this population may minimize obstacles to subsequent language learning and social interaction skills (e.g., Koegel, Koegel, & McNemey, 2001; Yoder, Warren, & Hull, 1995). Thus far, there is very little research on specific behavioral training of self- initiations to young, preverbal children with autism or on the effect of this early training on response to treatment.
The aim of the proposed research project is to systematically evaluate a self-initiation training (SIT) program for children with autism and examine the effect of SIT on language intervention. The study will specifically target children who are not expected to learn to self-initiate during Pivotal Response Training (PRT), a naturalistic behavioral intervention (Sherer & Schreibman, 2005). A single subject multiple baseline design across subjects will be used to examine treatment efficacy and to evaluate individual differences in treatment response. During baseline sessions children will receive PRT only. During the treatment component of the study, children's sessions will include both SIT and PRT. Baseline and treatment sessions will be evaluated for changes in self-initiation behaviors, the development of verbal and nonverbal communication, and changes in other social interaction skills. We hypothesize that young preverbal children with autism will learn to self-initiate during a self-initiation training program. In addition, we hypothesize that increases in self-initiations will have positive effects on their response to PRT.
The specific aims of the proposed study are to: (1) assess the predictive validity of current behavioral profiles regarding acquisition self-initiations during PRT alone, (2) develop and evaluate a self-initiation training (SIT) for preverbal children with autism, (3) assess which types of self-initiations increase after SIT, (4) assess how learning self-initiations impacts child progress in PRT, and (5) assess the generalization of self-initiations learned during SIT. Relevance: The proposed research project is relevant to public health in that the results will improve our understanding of autism and help clarify the relationship between early social behaviors and language development. In addition, the results of this study can be easily translated from research to practice by potentially identifying a method by which the treatment program of individual children may be improved. ? ? ?