What do children with minimally verbal autism (MVA) understand? Developing a practical, feasible, and valid observational assessment of receptive language for children with MVA

Principal Investigator(s):
Mary Alice Keller
Grant Type:
Graduate Research
Vanderbilt University
Nashville, Tennessee
Year Awarded:
Education and School Aged Children; Social and Communication Skills


Communication involves both expressive language (verbal skills) and receptive language (understanding). Research shows that receptive language is an indicator of expressive language, social, and functional outcomes. Children must be able to understand verbal language in order to benefit from educational instruction and therapies, and to participate in society. In children with severely impaired language, which occurs in 30% of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), expressive language is a focus of assessment and intervention. However, it remains difficult for therapists, educators, and parents to be certain of what children with ASD who have limited verbal skills (“minimally verbal”) understand across the course of any given day. This is due to the fact that there are few appropriate standardized assessments for children with minimally verbal autism (MVA) and there is limited research on this population as they are often excluded from studies. Recent research shows that alternative direct assessments, such as those using real objects as opposed to pictures, may be better suited for children with MVA. However, currently there are no practical, alternative direct assessments appropriate for children with MVA available to researchers or clinicians. The proposed study aims to evaluate the validity, reliability, and feasibility of a practical, alternative measure of receptive language that we have recently developed in our lab. Development of an assessment like this is seen as crucial to providing researchers and clinicians tools to determine how much children with MVA understand verbal language. This work will allow therapists and educators to accurately assess receptive language in children with MVA. Findings will also advance our understanding of the development of receptive language skills in children with MVA, allowing for future research investigating receptive language skills assessment and intervention in this population, which is desperately needed. Lastly, it will highlight successful methodologies for including children with MVA in research studies.

Back to Funded Research