Podcast: Autism means different things to different people

At this year’s International Society of Autism Research meeting in Austin, TX, there was a variety of themes explored. From early development and milestones, to intervention and supports, to different features like sensory issues, treatment, and how to solve the problem of heterogeneity. It comes down to this: Autism means different things to different people. This is just a small subset of everything that was presented at INSAR 2022 and I hope that if you want to see more, you advocate to have the presentations posted online or even have the program book made available publicly. In the meantime, enjoy the 30 minute summary here.


This week, the #ASFpodcast explores different types of interventions for which the core autism features are not necessarily the target, but those that enhance quality of life and provide help for irritability and emotional dysregulation. They include cooking, music therapies and antipsychotic medications. While they may not be effective in core autism features, they may help in other ways. Listen to the podcast here.




In this study we investigated the impact of parental language input on language development and associated neuroscillatory patterns in toddlers at risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Forty-six mother-toddler dyads at either high (n = 22) or low (n = 24) familial risk of ASD completed a longitudinal, prospective study including free-play, resting electroencephalography, and standardized language assessments. Input quantity/quality at 18 months positively predicted expressive language at 24 months, and relationships were stronger for high-risk toddlers. Moderated mediations revealed that input-language relationships were explained by 24-month frontal and temporal gamma power (30-50 Hz) for high-risk toddlers who would later develop ASD. Results suggest that high-risk toddlers may be cognitively and neurally more sensitive to their language environments, which has implications for early intervention.

Keywords: Autism; EEG; Early experience; Language development; Language input.

The Pandemic has required teachers to find ways to provide high-quality instruction in a virtual format. Video-based instruction (VBI) is a version of technology-aided instruction that has been effectively used in classrooms to improve mathematical outcomes for students with disabilities. This manuscript describes how a special education teacher can utilized VBI through free online platforms (i.e., SeeSaw, Loom) to implement a mathematical problem solving instructional strategy (modified schema-based instruction; MSBI) for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) while at home. MSBI utilizing VBI has successfully been used by teachers and researchers to improve additive and multiplicative problem solving skills for students with ASD. This manuscript describes how special education teachers can support students and their caregivers by providing high-quality problem solving instruction in a virtual environment.

OBJECTIVE: This cluster randomized trial (CRT) evaluated the efficacy of the Classroom Social, Communication, Emotional Regulation, and Transactional Support (SCERTS) Intervention (CSI) compared with usual school-based education with autism training modules (ATM).

METHOD: Sixty schools with 197 students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in 129 classrooms were randomly assigned to CSI or ATM. Mean student age was 6.79 years (SD 1.05) and 81.2% were male. CSI teachers were trained on the model and provided coaching throughout the school year to assist with implementation. A CRT, with students nested within general and special education classrooms nested within schools, was used to evaluate student outcomes.

RESULTS: The CSI group showed significantly better outcomes than the ATM group on observed measures of classroom active engagement with respect to social interaction. The CSI group also had significantly better outcomes on measures of adaptive communication, social skills, and executive functioning with Cohen’s d effect sizes ranging from 0.31 to 0.45.

CONCLUSION: These findings support the preliminary efficacy of CSI, a classroom-based, teacher-implemented intervention for improving active engagement, adaptive communication, social skills, executive functioning, and problem behavior within a heterogeneous sample of students with ASD. This makes a significant contribution to the literature by demonstrating efficacy of a classroom-based teacher-implemented intervention with a heterogeneous group of students with ASD using both observed and reported measures. (PsycINFO Database Record

A number of studies of parent-mediated interventions in autism spectrum disorder have been published in the last 15 years. We reviewed 19 randomized clinical trials of parent-mediated interventions for children with autism spectrum disorder between the ages of 1 and 6 years and conducted a meta-analysis on their efficacy. Meta-analysis outcomes were autism spectrum disorder symptom severity, socialization, communication-language, and cognition. Quality of evidence was rated as moderate for autism spectrum disorder symptom severity, communication-language, and cognition, and very low for socialization. Weighted Hedges’ g varied from 0.18 (communication-language) to 0.27 (socialization) and averaged 0.23 across domains. We also examined the relationship between outcome and dose of parent training, type of control group, and type of informant (parent and clinician). Outcomes were not significantly different based on dose of treatment. Comparing parent training to treatment-as-usual did not result in significantly different treatment effects than when parent training was compared to an active comparison group. Based on parent report only, treatment effects were significant for communication-language and non-significant for socialization, yet the opposite was found based on clinician-rated tools. This meta-analysis suggests that while most outcome domains of parent-delivered intervention are associated with small effects, the quality of research is improving.

Parents are now used as intervention partners through a design called parent-mediated intervention. It started to be studied before the pandemic but has now become a necessity. Does it work? Should it always work for everything? How long should the intervention last and how often? These are all questions of interest, and while research is still early, parents can be amazing partners in intervention especially below age 5. The provide opportunities for learning and communication, and they can utilize more hours during the day at home than traditional in-clinic services can. Of course not every family is the same and may not have the same abilities to learn the intervention, and in the future more of these contextual factors need to be studied. But for now, three cheers for parents helping their kids! Listen to the podcast here.




2011University of California Santa BarbaraJessica BradshawRobert Koegel

2013University of California San DiegoJessica Suhrheinrich

Preschoolers with severe autism and minimal speech were assigned either a discrete trial or a naturalistic language treatment, and parents of all participants also received parent responsiveness training. After 12 weeks, both groups showed comparable improvement in number of spoken words produced, on average. Approximately half the children in each group achieved benchmarks for the first stage of functional spoken language development, as defined by Tager-Flusberg et al. (J Speech Lang Hear Res, 52: 643-652, 2009). Analyses of moderators of treatment suggest that joint attention moderates response to both treatments, and children with better receptive language pre-treatment do better with the naturalistic method, while those with lower receptive language show better response to the discrete trial treatment. The implications of these findings are discussed.