Assessing Information Processing and Capacity for Understanding Language in Non-Verbal Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders
High Risk High Impact
Individuals with autism who are non-verbal are not included in research studies and hence very little is known about their abilities. The paucity of studies is due to logistical issues that include presumed compliance difficulties and the lack of expertise among researchers who can design and implement studies in individuals who may comprise 30-50% of the ASD population. The ability to perform research in this area is also greatly hindered because most instruments designed to assess individuals with ASD require expressive language skills. When applied to the non-verbal population, individuals typically score at the lowest levels on cognitive tests and are considered "low-functioning". This characterization occurs despite reports from family and caregivers that receptive language is indeed quite functional in some of these individuals. The proposal from Dr. Benasich and colleagues will utilize research strategies to directly assess the capacity for receptive language in non-verbal individuals with autism at a range of ages using EEG and information-processing tasks that they have previously developed for studying other developmental disability populations. These experiments will be, to our knowledge, the first that are dedicated to assessing receptive language capabilities in a population of subjects that lack functional language output capabilities. What this means for people with autism: Our understanding of cognitive functions in individuals in ASD is based almost exclusively on studies involving individuals who are characterized as "high functioning". The proposal will characterize the cognitive abilities of a very neglected subgroup of individuals with ASD and bring needed expertise to helping individuals who have been deemed "low-functioning". Information regarding their actual cognitive abilities could revolutionize the way these individuals are educated.