Marked communication deficits negatively impact the ability of youth and adults with ASD to learn, be employed, and participate in community life. A significant number of these individuals have not responded well to traditional communication interventions, indicating that as a field we are failing to accommodate their characteristic profiles of strengths, limitations, and preferences in the design of our interventions. We propose a pilot investigation of the impact of customized language representations on the development of picture-based representational skills that support language learning and use in the target population. Using an innovative new image manipulation tool to generate the customized representations, we will examine the elements of images that facilitate language learning to determine whether intentional and systematic manipulation of images included in communication interventions can propel the skills of those with ASD to higher levels. The interventions will be conducted with children, youth, and young adults, ages 10 to 21, in both computer-based instructional intervention and authentic augmented communication contexts.
The prevalence of autism spectrum disorders continues to rise, and the personal and financial costs to families and society for the treatment and care of those with ASD is staggering. Interventions that facilitate increased communicative competence will have a direct and positive impact on outcomes related to social interaction, learning, employment, and community living, and in so doing enable individuals to reduce their dependence on others and engage more fully with their community services, health care providers, families, and friends.