Evaluation of a training package to teach children with autism spectrum disorder to ask "who" questions

Children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often have trouble initiating social interactions. Deficits include omission of questions which are mands for information. This pragmatic language skill may be especially difficult to establish because the presumed motivational variables related to their occurrence may be low or absent in children with this diagnosis. This study evaluated the effectiveness of a training package to teach “who” question asking to four children aged 4 years who were diagnosed with autism. The training package presented three types of training stimuli: icons, photographs, and videos. Icons were used to teach the syntax of asking “who” questions. Photographs were altered to contain the silhouette of a person and videos showed a partially obscured individual in order to arrange for contact with the consequences that may maintain this type of question asking. Contrived in vivo probes were conducted to assess generalization to more naturalistic situations. Results from pre-training measures showed that the children infrequently asked “who” questions, regardless of stimulus type. Once training began, all of the children met mastery criteria in less than seven training sessions. Furthermore, three of the four children asked at least one “who” question during the in vivo probe trials during training and 3 of the 4 children asked “who” questions during the post-training in vivo assessment. The average number of words per trial also increased by at least one word for all four children. Finally, the percent correct syntax improved for all 4 children following delivery of the intervention package.