May 4, 2010
Jeremy Craig, 404-413-1357
ATLANTA - Scientists at Georgia State have found a way for therapists to help very young children with significant developmental disabilities gain a greater boost in communication.
In the study, appearing in the April edition of the Journal of Speech Language Hearing Research, the researchers used different types of interventions with children ages 21 months to 3 years, including one called parent-coached augmented communication, which uses a speech-generating computer that produces words to correspond with pictures.
Vocabulary is more than the words which the child can speak - it also includes the words produced through a speech generating device or by some other method.
Overall, the children gained a greater vocabulary to communicate with their parents using augmented communication than with the traditional speech communication intervention.
"Parent-coached augmented communication interventions did not hinder language development, but also provided a way for the child to develop communications skills in the absence of a substantial gain in spoken words," said Mary Ann Romski, Regents' Professor of communication, the director of the Center for Research on Atypical Development and Learning (CRADL) and a member of the Research on the Challenges of Acquring Language and Literacy (RCALL) area of focus.
The study was performed by Romski, Rose A. Sevcik, professor of psychology and co-director of the RCALL initiative, Lauren B. Adamson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Roger Bakeman, methodology consultant. Melissa Cheslock, speech-language pathologist, and doctoral students Ashlyn Smith and R. Michael Barker assisted with the study.
Sixty-two children completed the interventions with their parents, and had disabilities including ranging from Down syndrome to cerebral palsy. All children had a vocabulary of less than 10 words, whereas typically developing children at their ages have a much larger vocabulary of more than 50 to 100 words. The study was performed over 24 sessions.
Though case studies have been performed in the past about these language interventions, the study represents the first randomized control test exploring the interventions.
The researchers found that the most effective intervention was augmented communication output, where children are required to produce communication, whether through assistance or prompting.
"At the end of the sessions, all three groups of children had a similar-sized spoken vocabulary, but it was the augmented piece that helped to give these children the power of communication," Romski explained.
Traditionally, augmented communication is used only at older ages, at least 3 years and above, after speech communication interventions didn't produce communication. This Georgia State study shows that there are benefits to using augmented communication at a much earlier age, Romski said.
"It should be used from the beginning because it facilitates spoken communication, and the ability to communicate, which is the most critical piece," she said. "They can learn to communicate, even when struggling to learn a spoken word."
The research was funded through the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders of the National Institutes of Health. Romski and her colleagues are using a grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences to follow the children into elementary school, and to refine the interventions. They are also looking at the effects of the intervention on parents' stress and perception of the child's skills.
GSU's CRADL is an interdisciplinary center founded in 1998 to stimulate basic and applied research in atypical development and learning, and which undertakes education and outreach efforts. Thirty-five faculty members from across multiple disciplines and four GSU colleges coordinate and support scholarly efforts to gain a fuller understanding on the subject, from birth through adolescence.
The article, "Randomized Comparison of Augmented and Nonaugmented Language Interventions for Toddlers With Developmental Delays and Their Parents," is available online at http://jslhr.asha.org/cgi/content/full/53/2/350.
For more information about CRADL, visit http://www2.gsu.edu/~wwwaty.