A non-interactive method for teaching noun and verb meanings to young children with ASD
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are characterized by language deficits, including difficulty learning new words, as well as impaired social skills. Although children with ASD struggle with social interaction and joint attention, existing ASD therapies that teach new words to children require one-on-one social interaction between the child and a practitioner. This study focuses on a behavioral intervention with the potential to be more effective and easier to implement. As an innovative non-social, non-interactive technique for teaching new word meanings to children with ASD, it focuses on verbs as well as nouns both because verbs play an important role in grammar and because they are difficult to learn compared to nouns. The method introduces new words to children via a computerized non-social training method. The study uses nonsense words in order to assess learning without concern for knowledge of the words being presented. Children first hear novel (nonsense) words (e.g., “blick”) presented in a series of prerecorded sentences that provide some information as to the word’s meaning (e.g., “Mommy likes to blick the baby”). Next, they view a series of videotaped scenes that depict the meaning of the novel word (e.g., actors performing a simple action, like spinning). Finally, correct assignment of the word a meaning will be assessed using by presenting two new videotaped scenes to view. One depicts the verb’s meaning (e.g., spinning), and the other serves as a distractor scene by depicting an incorrect meaning (e.g., running). Children hear the query, “Where’s blicking?” Their eye gaze and looking time are recorded as they view the scenes. Looking time serves as a measure of whether they have learned the new word’s meaning. This method seems ideally suited for children with ASD. First, it requires them to do nothing but attend to a video for both training and assessment; and does not require social interaction or verbal responses. Second, it presents auditory and visual information at different times, rather than requiring the children to process the two kinds of information simultaneously, which may create difficulty. If successful, this training can be adapted into a low-cost easy-to-implement word learning therapy that can be used in the home.