This proposal reflects the overarching goal of enhancing interventions that address core communication deficits common in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Despite earlier diagnosis and increased awareness of the importance of early intervention, language and communication outcomes remain highly variable in ASD, with some longitudinal samples showing as many as 50% of children diagnosed with autism at age 2 still non-verbal, or lacking phrase speech by age 9 (Anderson et al., 2007). Despite the importance of such an unmet treatment need, few studies have empirically tested the possible additive effects of combined interventions, especially combined psychosocial and medical interventions, as we propose to do. This innovative project tests the hypothesized benefits of the addition of the dopamine-stabilizing drug, aripiprazole (ARI) versus placebo, on short-term social communication and language outcomes in 6-11 year old children with ASD lacking phrase speech receiving an intensive, developmentally informed language intervention. Drawing from converging lines of evidence suggesting abnormalities in social motivation and reward responsivity in ASD, and behavioral moderators of treatment response in ASD, we propose a translational study to test for a hypothesized positive effect of ARI administration, based on effects on social motivation, in combination with a state-of-the-art communication intervention in children with ASD and low language ability. Data from the proposed study can inform an empirically based approach to choices of intervention for school-age children with ASD and low language ability. The proposed study should represent a trial design that could serve as a platform for future studies of future targeted treatments for ASD, identified by anticipated new understandings of the core pathophysiology. If our proof-of-concept trial suggests that ARI facilitates language acquisition in ASD, such a result could have clinical implications once replicated in a larger controlled study. The project directly addresses goals of the lACC to increase controlled intervention studies addressing key needs of individuals with ASD.

Public Health Relevance

This is a new project as a part of the renewal application for the UCLA Autism Center of Excellence. The project directly addresses goals of the lACC to increase the number of controlled intervention studies addressing key needs of individuals with ASD.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Specialized Center (P50)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZHD1-DSR-Y)
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University of California Los Angeles
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