Word Processing and Autism

Photo 1 of the Professor Micheal Sandbank's Brain and Language Lab in the Department of Special Education in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin.Dr. Sandbank researches early language and social communication development in children with autism and developmental disabilities. Micheal Sandbank has worked with individuals with disabilities across all age groups, both as a teacher and an interventionist. Presently, she researches factors that influence language acquisition in young children with autism and other developmental disabilities. Her program of research involves the analysis of multiple types of data, including naturalistic language samples and neural measures of speech processing in young children. Dr. Sandbank is particularly interested in the use of neural measures of speech processing to identify clinically useful practices for language intervention for young children with disabilities. She also specializes in specific research methodologies, including those pertaining to generalizability theory and meta-analysis.While most babies and young children show a natural preference for child talk, or child-directed speech, some children with autism do not seem to “tune in” to child talk in the same way that their peers do. Some recent evidence suggests that a lack of attention to this kind of speech may make language learning difficult for young children with autism. The goal of the word processing and autism study is to understand what happens in the brains of young children with autism as they hear words presented in child- versus adult-directed speech. Young children with autism that are just beginning to learn words will come to our kid-friendly lab and listen to words (like ‘ball’ and ‘book’) and nonwords (like ‘teg’ and ‘neem’) spoken in child- and adult-directed speech, while a hat of sensors records their brainwaves. Do young children with autism exhibit a stronger response to words presented in kid talk? Is it similar to the response exhibited by young typically developing children? Does the strength of their response to words spoken in child talk or adult-directed speech predict the number of words that they know? The answers to these questions can help us to understand how different types of speech help children with autism learn language, and to consider ways to improve treatment practices.

This study is currently paused but will resume soon. See our recruitment flyer or “Participate in a Study” for details on how to participate.