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NIH Partners on Language & Communications

Focus on Examining Developmental Trajectories & Developing Evidence-based Interventions for Autism
April 23, 2007

NAAR and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently held the second scientific meeting of its new Language & Communications Initiative, which took place in Washington, D.C.

The conference, held on June 24, included more than 20 child language development experts and investigators focusing on autism. The Language & Communications Initiative is designed to help NAAR and the NIH better meet the needs of the research community focusing on language and communications and to foster research collaborations between child language development experts and autism researchers. By doing so, NAAR and the NIH expect to develop an evidence-based approach to better understand communication deficits in children with autism as well as potential intervention strategies.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) is the lead agency at the NIH collaborating with NAAR in this partnership.

"NIDCD has been so pleased to partner with NAAR on the important issue of autism and language," said Judith A. Cooper, Ph.D., NIDCD deputy director and director of the Institute's Division of Scientific Programs. "The future of research in this critical area as well as the training of the next wave of investigators will most certainly be affected by the recommendations, deliberations, and collaborations which were a part of the conference."

The collaboration is examining two specific areas of language and communications: determining developmental trajectory in children, both verbal and non-verbal, with autism and the development of evidence-based interventions.

The study of developmental trajectory examines when various developmental milestones, such as language acquisition, in children take place. Forecasting a child's language potential as he or she grows will help enable doctors to formulate a developmental profile for children with autism that will assist in developing more targeted interventions tailored to that child's individual needs and abilities. This line of research is may also identify a new marker for the diagnosis of autism.

The development of evidence-based interventions is directly linked to the study of developmental trajectory. Investigators working in this collaboration will leverage the formulation of the developmental profile to determine which interventions are best suited for different communication challenges. This research will focus on existing communication-based interventions as well as newly developed interventions and include clinical trials to establish evidence-based results.

Language and communications issues observed in autism are varied in nature. There is even scientific debate as to whether communication problems stem from impairments in the mechanics of speaking and hearing or if they represent a much more subtle problem involving comprehension of the spoken word.

Regardless of this debate, the answers to these questions are critical to determining how to best educate children with autism and, more profoundly, how to best "connect" with them and maximize their potential throughout their lives.

"NAAR should be applauded for its rapid, supportive and responsive action focused on this topic, and its commitment to addressing this most core deficit, and most human ability" said Dr. Cooper. "NIDCD looks forward to a continued partnership with NAAR on initiatives in this area."