All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Rajesh Kana

Advisory Committee Members

Fred Biasini

Lynn Kirkland

Sarah O'Kelley

Scott Snyder

Document Type

Dissertation

Date of Award

2016

Degree Name by School

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) often exhibit deficits in language ranging from lack of functional speech to difficulties with pragmatic aspects of language. Notably, language comprehension is often impaired in individuals with ASD. Deficits in language processing frequently result in problems with reading, with the most common reading profile in children with ASD being that of adequate decoding abilities accompanied by poor comprehension. While language processing is an area of deficit, visuospatial processing is noted to be an area of strength for children with ASD. Therefore, an important question is whether a strength-oriented approach can be used to address reading deficits in this population. Thus, the current project evaluated the effectiveness of a visual imagery-based intervention program (Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking) to improve reading and oral language comprehension in children with ASD. This project used data collected at the UAB Cognition, Brain, and Autism Laboratory from children with ASD (ages 8 to 13 years) who underwent neuropsychological testing before and after receiving intervention (ASD-EXP; N = 22). These children were compared to a wait-list control group of children with ASD (ASD-WLC; N = 17), as well as with typically developing (TD) control participants (N = 26). At Time 1, children with ASD (i.e., combined ASD-EXP and ASD-WLC) had significantly lower scores than TD Controls on a measure of oral language comprehension, but did not differ on measures of performance IQ, reading rate, reading fluency, expressive vocabulary, semantic knowledge, or phonological processing. Relative to the ASD-WLC group, children in the ASD-EXP group did not significantly improve their scores on measures of reading or oral language comprehension following intervention. However, when looking within-groups, the ASD-EXP group showed a significant increase in reading comprehension from pre- to post-testing not seen in the ASD-WLC group. Within the ASD-EXP group, lower reading comprehension scores at baseline significantly predicted greater change in reading comprehension scores following intervention. This study contributed to the literature on the reading and language profile of children with ASD as well as highlighted the need for research into the efficacy of targeted reading interventions for this population.

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