One of the most important objectives of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) interventions is to improve spoken communicative language skills. Across all ages and levels of language, quantitative changes in the amount of intelligible speech, the length of speaker turns and better conversational turn-taking are key measures of advances in language. Such measures not only signify that a treatment is effective in improving language itself, but also are associated with improvements in social communication. With funding support from a previous SFARI award, Helen Tager-Flusberg and her team at Boston University developed a standardized protocol (called Eliciting Language Samples for Analysis, or ELSA) for collecting expressive language samples from children and adolescents with ASD. They further validated that a real-time coding scheme could be implemented by nonexperts to code for these language measures.
Tager-Flusberg’s team now aims to: (1) develop a toddler version of ELSA — called ELSA-T — and evaluate whether the ELSA and ELSA-T are comparable in the measures derived from them and (2) create an approach for training parents in using the ELSA/ELSA-T protocol with high levels of fidelity that will yield assessments of their children’s language in home-based settings that are comparable to the assessments made by trained examiners in the lab/clinic.
To achieve these aims, Tager-Flusberg’s team plans to recruit a group of 25 children (ages 4–6) with ASD who will be administered both versions of ELSA on different days in the lab and whose parents will be invited to collect similar data in their homes. To ensure broad access to these tools, the team will also be working to make the ELSA protocol available online to all those who want to try it and will be adding the toddler protocol online when it is finished.