Secondary Analysis of Reading-Based Activities Utilizing a Scripted Language Approach: Evaluating Interactions Between Students With Autism and Their Interventionists. (2020)

Sparapani, N et al. Secondary Analysis of Reading-Based Activities Utilizing a Scripted Language Approach: Evaluating Interactions Between Students With Autism and Their Interventionists. 2020. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. Vol. 63: 3130-3154.

Due to the presence of reading challenges in students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the authors of this study were motivated to investigate how students with ASD respond to the delivery of reading intervention based on the language (i.e., how instructions were worded) used by the administrators. More specifically, the authors wanted to know if 1) there was “variability in the types of language that the interventionists used” and 2) how much the students “participated within the confines of a scripted language, reading intervention.

Through local recruitment procedures, this research study included a total of 20 students (17 boys; 3 girls; age range of 7-11 years) who had a diagnosis of ASD. Subjects were excluded if there was a significant medical diagnosis that prevented consistent attendance from school, or if there was a diagnosis of severe motor delay or genetic syndrome. Based on results from standardized assessment and parent questionnaire, this group of subjects had a range in severity of impairment, intellectual functioning, and expressive vocabulary. There was also a variety of ethnic backgrounds. The interventionists consisted of undergraduate and graduate level research assistants and a postdoctoral research scholar, who all received training on the curriculum for the study. Pre- and post-assessment measures were completed to evaluate each student’s cognition, language, and vocabulary battery. These assessments include the Social Communication Questionnaire, the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence-II, the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals-4, and the Expressive Vocabulary Test-2.

The intervention was set up for students to be paired based on language/cognitive levels, using literature appropriate for their abilities. Comprehension and vocabulary were the two skill areas specifically targeted using a “scripted language approach” (p. 3137). The intervention took place over the course of several weeks using six high-quality books and guided questions (asked before, during, and after reading) to target goals. If students had difficulty accurately answering the questions, “interventionists were trained to use a scripted language approach as a prompting hierarchy to help scaffold student responses” (p. 3137), moving from open-ended questions at first to close-ended questions if more support was needed. More specifically, the authors of the study coded the interventionists’ language into four categories: responsive language, open-ended questions, close-ended questions, and directive language.

The authors found that interventionists used differing language in the groups, even with the explicit and scripted approach. Overall, interventionists responded to students’ contributions about 48% of the time (p. 3139) with mostly using close-ended questions; moreover, students responded to interventionists questions about 65% of the time (p. 3140). In the article, the authors report specific percentages of each question type and response from students. In sum, the study suggests that the type of language interventionists use and how they can change it while instructing may improve learning outcomes for children with ASD.

Clinical Takeaways

  • Most literature on this topic focuses on the instructor; this study helps to open the door to understanding how specific instructional talk to meet the communicative needs of learners with ASD can improve outcomes of reading intervention.
  • This study supports the use of responsive versus directive language during reading intervention with children with ASD. Responsive interventionists usually ask more open-ended questions and are flexible in delivery, which results in increased student participation.

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