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Directing Attention Boosts Language in Young Children with Autism

 

 

According to an article published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (2012;51:487-495), has confirmed that for young children with autism, pointing, gestures to focus attention improve later language. The intervention, in which adults actively engaged the attention of preschool children with autism by pointing to toys and using other gestures to focus their attention resulted in a long term increase in language skills. The study showed that by age 8, children with autism who received therapy centered on sharing attention and play when they were 3 or 4 years old, had stronger vocabularies and more advanced language skills than did children who received standard therapy. All of the children in the study attended preschool for 30 hours each week.

 

The 40 children who participated in the study were 8 and 9 years old. Five years earlier, they had been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and received the intensive therapy program or standard intervention, as part of a separate study. The study assessed the children’s vocabulary, language, and other cognitive skills. They then compared the results of these assessments to those taken when the children were 3 and 4 years old. The earlier and later assessments also included measures of the child’s ability to initiate interactions with adults, the variety of the child’s play, and the quality of interactions with a parent.

 

Results showed that children who started the attention-focusing therapy earlier had more advanced linguistic skills at age 8. Those who learned to point or direct an adult’s attention to an object of interest at age 3 and 4 also developed more advanced language skills when they were 8. And children who showed greater flexibility in playing with objects at age 3 or 4 demonstrated better memory and other cognitive skills at age 8.

 

According to the authors, the findings show that therapy focused on such basic skills as pointing, sharing, and engaging in play can have considerable long-term effects as children with autism spectrum disorders grow and learn to express themselves with words.

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