Hi and welcome to our research review where we review a peer-reviewed research study each week.
Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), by definition, have delays and/or differences in language development. Language delays are fairly easy to identify: a child does not speak, a child speaks in shorter sentences, or a child has rote language or uses echolalia. Language differences are a little more complex to understand. One type of language difference often seen in children with ASD is the presence of pronoun reversals.
A pronoun reversal occurs when a child says “I” when he really means “you”. For example, “You want it?” is a common phrase used by children when they are actually trying to communicate “I want it”. Most parents respond naturally to their children and this is where the confusion comes in.
Child says, “You want it”
Adult says, “I want it” (as if correcting the child)
Child is now confused because he actually wanted it but now the adult says she wants it!
So, the study we are going to review is a study that formally addressed challenging behavior but inadvertently addressed pronoun reversals for a 4-year-old girl with autism. The study authors were Melissa Olive (known as Missy to many readers), Russ Lang, and Tonya Davis. The study was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders in 2008.
The child was enrolled in the study because her mother reported that the little girl was engaging in challenging behaviors and that she (the mother) could not do laundry, cook, or clean. Essentially, every waking minute of the mother’s life was controlled by the child’s challenging behavior.
The graduate research assistants went to the child’s home and conducted an assessment called a Functional Behavioral Assessment or FBA. From the assessment they were able to show that the little girl was attention seeking. Essentially, she engaged in the behavior in order to get her mom’s attention. The graduate assistants also noticed that the little girl did not have any play skills. She did not know how to sit and play and she required her mother’s attention in order to become engaged in an activity.
The mother identified 4 activities that she wanted her child to learn how to do. The activities were common preschool activities such as reading books, doing art, playing a matching game, and puzzles. The researchers set up a speech generating device such as a 4-button touch talker. Each button included a picture of the activity the mother had identified. The researchers programmed the device to use the child’s own voice saying things such as “I want you to work puzzles with me” or “I want you to paint with me”.
Initially, the mother sat down and showed her daughter how to play the activities. After a few minutes, the mother excused herself to do housework but showed the little girl how push the correct button requesting Mommy to come back. Over time, the mother faded her prompts so that the little girl learned to press the button to request her mother on her own. Not only did the little girl’s challenging behavior decrease, her appropriate play increased. Additionally, the little girl soon learned to verbally ask her mom to come back to play. Moreover, the rate of the little girl’s pronoun reversal decreased.
Intervention strategies for addressing pronoun reversals are essentially non-existent. This strategy teaches appropriate pronoun use without confusing the student about who wants what or as we all recall the confusion around Who’s On First.
Clearly, more studies are needed as this study enrolled only one participant. However, no studies exist on how to correct this common problem so this seems like a good place to start.
If you have an idea for a research article review, please let us know. We look forward to hearing from you or is it that you look forward to hearing from us? I’m so confused!