Many young children who have been identified with developmental disabilities including mental retardation, Down syndrome, and autism spectrum disorders, exhibit speech-language delays along with other impairments inherent in their diagnosed disabilities. Various interventions cited in the literature target the communicative and social behavior of school-aged children with developmental delays; however, there is limited information about these types of interventions for very young children with delays. Given that there are about one million infants and children through age five receiving early intervention and early childhood special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, and that the number of young children identified with autism spectrum disorders is rising, there is a clear need to develop interventions that can be used with this age group.
The purpose of this project is to develop and document the feasibility of an intervention to improve the social-pragmatic communication skills of young children with developmental delays. Social-pragmatic communication skills involve the ability to interpret and send appropriate verbal and nonverbal messages (e.g., eye contact, facial expressions, and body language) for successful communication exchanges in social environments. This intervention will be naturalistic, using the social context of naturally occurring interactions within everyday family activities. Because individuals with developmental delays often exhibit difficulty with generalization, strategies that promote skill generalization to untrained settings, people, and conditions (e.g., beyond the home) will be targeted.