Teaching the imitation and spontaneous use of gestures using a naturalistic behavioral intervention in young children with autism
Children with autism exhibit deficits in the imitation and spontaneous use of descriptive, conventional and effective gestures both in structured settings and in more natural contexts such as play with others. These deficits are a barrier to both communication and socialization, and are thus an important focus of early intervention programs for children with autism. Reciprocal Imitation Training (RIT), a recently designed naturalistic imitation intervention, has been shown to increase spontaneous, generalized object imitation skills in young children with autism during play. This study is designed to assess whether RIT can be adapted to target the imitation of descriptive, conventional, and affective gestures in young children with autism. Children who exhibit deficits in the spontaneous imitation and use of gestures will be selected to participate. This project will conduct a single-subject, multiple baseline design across five children with autism. Dependent measures will include behavioral and standardized measures of gesture imitation and spontaneous use, as well as additional related behaviors such as language and joint attention. This design will allow for fine-grained, detailed analysis of individual responsiveness to the treatment for both the targeted behaviors (gesture imitation and spontaneous use) and non-targeted behaviors (e.g., language and joint attention.) It is expected that the participants will exhibit increases in their imitation ability in both the treatment setting and on measures of generalization. In addition, it is expected that the children will also exhibit increases in their spontaneous use of gestures and other social-communicative behaviors including language, joint attention, and social interaction skills. These results will provide support for the effectiveness of RIT to teach gesture imitation and use and will provide a new and exciting option for the treatment of young children with autism who are not yet using or imitating gestures.