Impact of school-based comprehension pilot study on the narratives of children with Autism

Impact of school-based comprehension pilot study on the narratives of children with Autism

First Author: Alyssa Henry -- University of Virginia
Additional authors/chairs: 
Emily Solari
Keywords: ASD, Reading comprehension, narratives, Oral Language, Intervention studies
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose. The comprehension impairments in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are well-documented, yet there are few randomized controlled trial to assess the impact of interventions to ameliorate these difficulties. One way to assess change in this population is through narrative-based measures, which provide insight into participants' oral language and social communication abilities. This school-based pilot study examined whether a school-based integrated vocabulary and listening comprehension intervention had effects on the narrative language abilities.

Method. The intervention took place in Special Day Class setting and consisted of 4 half-hour sessions/week across a 6-month period. 23 participants received the intervention, and 21 randomly assigned, matched control participants were also tracked. A narrative generation task was administered pre- and post-intervention and narratives were evaluated for length, complexity, coherence, and understanding of characters' social and emotional characteristics.

Results. Preliminary analyses of ALL student narratives at pretest suggest that students with ASD often produce narratives that are episodic in nature, and do not demonstrate an understanding of the "gist" of the story or how characters are feeling and reacting. Post-intervention, a two-way ANOVA showed that students who participated in the intervention showed an increase in emotional and mental state language in their narratives compared to controls F(1, 41) = 7.82, p < .05.

Conclusions. These data suggest that these comprehension intervention practices are effective for children with ASD, and that narrative measures are sensitive to children's general oral language and communicative abilities. The increase in social and emotional language in students' stories following the intervention suggests that these practices may improve both the academic and social skills of children with autism.