The objective of this project is to develop and field-test prototype software for a research-based vocabulary development program featuring a combined lexical-cognitive approach to noun acquisition. The target population for the curriculum will be 3-8 year old children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), as well as a broad range of other children with language disorders, with language function in the range of 2-5 years. The curriculum will use a core noun vocabulary in training activities de- signed to address four interrelated goals: (a) train a basic noun vocabulary using both fast and slow mapping strategies;(b) enrich the semantic features of lexical entries by associating them with functional and/or descriptive information;(c) enhance lexical organization by using the core vocabulary in a series of categorization activities;and (d) expand paradigmatic schemas with training that associates basic level nouns with paradigmatically associated concepts. A subset of the curriculum was developed in Phase I and used in iterative testing with subjects in the target populations. It was found that even low language functioning children with ASD were able to use the prototype materials as intended and acquire or demonstrate knowledge of fast mapping, the vocabulary items, their categories, and their semantic associations. In Phase II the knowledge gained in Phase I will be used to improve and expand the curriculum into a prototype that covers 220 Target Nouns (110 associated pairs) with at least 10 superordinate noun categories. The prototype will include a unique integrated expert curriculum control system that includes probe tests to establish appropriate entry points into the curriculum, and will provide highly individualized and efficient language instruction in appropriate activities with proper instructional support. The prototype will be used in a 12-week field test in a public school distrit to evaluate its effectiveness when used by children with ASD and language impairments under natural conditions. Dependent measures will include pre- and post-intervention measures of receptive and expressive language status.
Impaired language is recognized as one of the hallmarks of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Despite extensive incidental exposure to language, many children with ASD have a markedly limited vocabulary and are clearly in need of formal remediation. The goal of this project is to develop a curriculum and prototype software for a research-based vocabulary development program featuring a combined lexical-cognitive approach to noun acquisition. The curriculum will focus on helping children to develop the learning processes necessary for efficient lexical acquisition and organization, and on laying the groundwork for a rich and semantically well organized conceptual framework. This will provide a cost effective means to promote early language and cognitive development in children with ASD as well as a broad range of other children with language disorders.