IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

The Impact of Parent-Mediated Early Intervention on Social Communication for Children with Autism

A key challenge for children with autism is the need to strengthen social communication, something that can be supported early in a child’s development. Dr. Hannah Schertz, professor at Indiana University Bloomington’s School of Education, has conducted a series of IES-funded projects to develop and evaluate the impact of early intervention, mediated through parents, for improving social communication in toddlers with or at risk for autism. We recently interviewed Dr. Schertz to learn more about the importance of guiding parents in the use of mediated learning practices to promote social communication, how her current research connects with her prior research, and what she hopes to accomplish.

Why is parental mediation in early intervention important for very young children with autism? How does it work and why do you focus this approach on improving children’s social communication development?

Headshot of Hannah Schertz

The intervention targets social communication because it is the core autism challenge and it’s important to address concerns early, as signs of autism emerge. Research has found that preverbal social communication is related to later language competency. Our premise is that this foundation will give toddlers a reason to communicate and set the stage for verbal communication. More specifically, joint attention—one preverbal form of social communication—is the key intervention target in our research. It is distinct from requesting/directing or following requests, which are instrumental communications used to accomplish one’s own ends. Joint attention, which takes the partner’s interests and perspectives into account, is an autism-specific challenge whereas more instrumental communication skills are not.

Our research team incorporates a mediated learning approach at two levels—early intervention providers supporting parents and then parents supporting their toddlers. The approach is designed to promote active engagement in the learning process and leverage the parent’s privileged relationship with the child as the venue for social learning. Early intervention providers help parents understand both the targeted social communication outcomes for their children (intervention content) and the mediated learning practices (intervention process) used to promote these child outcomes. As parents master these concepts, they can translate them flexibly into a variety of daily parent-child interactions. This understanding allows parents to naturally integrate learning opportunities with child interests and family cultural/language priorities and preferences. Over time, their accrued knowledge, experience, and increased self-efficacy should prepare them to continually support the child’s social learning even after their participation in the project ends.

How does your more recent work, developing and testing Building Interactive Social Communication (BISC), extend your prior research examining Joint Attention Mediated Learning (JAML)?

Both JAML and BISC address the same goal—supporting social communication as early signs of autism emerge. In JAML, researchers guided parent learning directly while parents incorporated social communication into interaction with their toddlers. BISC extends the intervention by supporting community-based practitioners in facilitating parent learning rather than parents learning directly from the research team. BISC also added a component to address cases in which parents identify child behaviors that substantially interfere with the child’s social engagement.

You recently completed a pilot study to test a new professional development framework for supporting early intervention providers in implementing BISC. Please tell us about the findings of this study. What were the impacts on the early intervention providers, parents, and toddlers?

We tested an early version of BISC to study its preliminary effects on early intervention provider, parent, and child outcomes for 12 provider/parent/child triads. In effect size estimates derived from single-case design data, we found large effects for early intervention provider fidelity (for example, mediating parent learning, guiding parents’ reflection on video-recorded interaction with their toddlers, and supporting active parent engagement) and parent application of mediated learning practices to promote toddler social communication. We also found large effects on child outcomes (social reciprocity, child behavior, and social play) and a small effect on joint attention.

As you begin your larger-scale trial to examine the efficacy of BISC on provider, parent, and child outcomes, what impact do you hope your work will have on the field of early intervention generally and the development of social communication in children with autism more specifically? 

Approximately 165 community-based early intervention practitioners will have learned to support parent learning through direct participation or as control group participants who receive self-study materials. These providers will be equipped to bring this knowledge to their future work. We anticipate that practitioners will experience their implementation role as feasible and effective. Ultimately, toddlers with early signs of autism will have greater access to early, developmentally appropriate, and family-empowering early intervention that directly addresses the core social difficulty of autism. Forthcoming published materials will extend access to other providers, offering an intervention that is more specifically tailored to the needs of very young children with social communication challenges than other approaches.

Is there anything else you would like to share/add regarding your projects? 

I would like to thank my colleagues and project co-principal investigators (Co-PIs) for their expertise and contributions to this work. For our current BISC efficacy project, Co-PI Dr. Patricia Muller (Director of the Center for Evaluation, Policy, and Research) is leading the randomized controlled trial and cost-effectiveness study, and Co-PI Dr. Jessica Lester (professor of Counseling and Educational Psychology) is overseeing the qualitative investigation of parent-child interactions using conversation analysis to explore potential influences on child outcomes. Kathryn Horn coordinates intervention activities, Lucia Zook oversees operational and assessment activities, and Addison McGeary supports recruitment and logistical activities.

This blog was authored by Skyler Fesagaiga, a Virtual Student Federal Service intern for NCSER and graduate student at the University of California, San Diego. The grants in this connected line of research have been managed by Amy Sussman (PO for NCSER’s early intervention portfolio) and Emily Weaver (PO for NCSER’s autism research portfolio).

Education at a Glance 2023: Putting U.S. Data in a Global Context

International comparisons provide reference points for researchers and policy analysts to understand trends and patterns in national education data and are very important as U.S. students compete in an increasingly global economy.

Education at a Glance (EAG), an annual publication produced by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), provides data on the structure, finances, and progress of education systems in 38 OECD countries—including the United States—as well as a number of OECD accession and partner countries. Data presented in EAG on topics of high policy interest in the United States are also featured in NCES reports, including the Condition of Education and Digest of Education Statistics.  

The recently released 2023 edition of EAG shows that the United States is above the international average on some measures, such as funding of postsecondary education, but lags behind in others, such as participation in early childhood education and care (ECEC). The 2023 report also features a Spotlight on Vocational Education and Training as well as interactive data dashboards on ECEC systems, upper secondary education systems, and educational support for Ukrainian refugees.


Spotlight on Vocational Education and Training (VET)

Each EAG edition centers on a particular theme of high policy relevance in OECD countries. The focus of this year’s report is VET programs, which look very different in the United States compared with many other OECD countries. Unlike in many OECD countries, most high schools in the United States do not offer a separate, distinct vocational track at the upper secondary (high school) level. Instead, vocational education is available as optional career and technical education (CTE) courses throughout high school. Regardless of whether they choose to take CTE courses, all U.S. students who complete high school have the same potential to access postsecondary programs. In other OECD countries, selecting a vocational track at this level may lead to different postsecondary opportunities. Check out the 2023 EAG Spotlight for an overview of VET programs across OECD countries.


Highlights From EAG 2023

Below is a selection of topics from the EAG report highlighting how key education benchmarks in the United States compare with other OECD countries.


Postsecondary Educational Attainment

The percentage of U.S. 25- to 34-year-olds with a postsecondary degree increased by 13 percentage points between 2000 and 2022, reaching 51 percent (the OECD average in 2022 was 47 percent) (Table A1.3).1 In this age group in the United States, higher percentages of women than men attained a postsecondary degree (56 vs. 46 percent) (Table A1.2). Across OECD countries, the average postsecondary educational attainment gap between 25- to 34-year-old men and women in 2022 (13 percentage points) was wider than the gap in the United States (10 percentage points). In the United States, the postsecondary attainment rate for 25- to 34-year-old men was 5 percentage points higher than the OECD average, and the attainment rate for women was 3 percentage points higher than the OECD average.


Figure 1. Percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with a postsecondary degree, by OECD country: 2022

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Data include a small percentage of adults with lower levels of attainment.
Year of reference differs from 2022. Refer to the source table for more details.
SOURCE: OECD (2023), Table A1.3. See Source section for more information and Annex 3 for notes.


International Student Enrollment

The United States is the top OECD destination country for international students enrolling in postsecondary education. In 2021, some 833,204 foreign students were enrolled in postsecondary programs in the United States, representing 13 percent of the international education market share (Table B6.1).2 In comparison, the United Kingdom had the second highest number of international students enrolled in postsecondary education in 2021, representing 9 percent of the international education market share. Interestingly, when examining enrollment trends over the past 3 years (2019 to 2021), foreign student enrollment decreased by 143,649 students (15 percent) in the United States but increased by 111,570 students (23 percent) in the United Kingdom. International student enrollment during these years was likely affected by the coronavirus pandemic, which had large impacts on global travel in 2020 and 2021.


Education Spending

U.S. spending on education is relatively high across all levels of education compared with the OECD average. The largest difference is in postsecondary spending, where the United States spent $36,172 per full-time postsecondary student in 2020, the second highest amount after Luxembourg ($53,421) and nearly double the OECD average ($18,105) (Table C1.1).3 This spending on postsecondary education amounts to 2.5 percent of the U.S. GDP, higher than the OECD average (1.5 percent) (Table C2.1). These total expenditures include amounts received from governments, students, and all other sources.


Figure 2. Expenditures per full-time equivalent student, by education level and OECD country: 2020

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1 Year of reference differs from 2020. Refer to the source table for more details.
SOURCE: OECD (2023), Table C1.1. See Source section for more information and Annex 3 for notes.


High School Completion Rate

The United States has a higher upper secondary (high school) completion rate than most other OECD countries. In 2021, some 87 percent of U.S. students completed their high school program in the expected timeframe, compared with the OECD average of 72 percent (Table B3.1).


Early Childhood Education

The level of participation in early childhood education programs in the United States is below the OECD average. In 2021, average enrollment rates across OECD countries were 72 percent for 3-year-olds, 87 percent for 4-year-olds, and 84 percent for 5-year-olds (Table B2.1). In contrast, enrollment rates for students of these ages in the United States were 30 percent for 3-year-olds, 50 percent for 4-years-olds, and 81 percent for 5-year-olds.  

 

Browse the full EAG 2023 report to see how the United States compares with other countries on these and other important education-related topics.

 

By RaeAnne Friesenhahn, AIR, and Cris De Brey, NCES


[1] EAG data for the year 2000 can be accessed via the online OECD Stat database.

[2] Unrounded data in Excel format can be accessed via the StatLink located below each table.

[3] Expenditure in national currencies was converted into equivalent USD by dividing the national currency figure by the purchasing power parity (PPP) index for GDP. For more details on methodology see Annex 2 and Annex 3.

Award-Winning Efficacy Research on Improving Cognitive and Motor Skills in Infants with Neuromotor Disabilities

Headshot of Regina (Reggie) Harbourne

Congratulations to Regina (Reggie) Harbourne and her colleagues for receiving the most prestigious award of the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine (AACPDM)—for the second time!—for their NCSER-funded research on the efficacy of the START-Play intervention. The Gayle G. Arnold Award is presented annually to the authors of the best scientific manuscript in the field. Dr. Harbourne and her colleagues received the award in 2019 for their first publication on the initial motor and cognitive outcomes of this study. They recently accepted this award again at the 2022 annual meeting for a follow-up publication on the impacts of the intervention on the important cognitive construct of object permanence.

Sitting Together and Reaching to Play (START-Play) is an intervention designed to target sitting, reaching, and motor-based problem solving in infants with motor delays or disabilities. Physical therapists work in the child’s home with the family on providing intensive, individualized activities to promote these motor skills, building toward goal-directed movements, problem-solving, and learning basic cause-effect relationships based in early motor skills. In this study, the research team conducted a randomized controlled trial with 112 infants aged 7 to 16 months. Those receiving START-Play and those in the control group all continued to receive their usual early intervention services. Children were assessed at various timepoints during the 12-week intervention as well as follow-up visits up to examine maintenance of outcomes.

In their first award-winning manuscript, START-Play Physical Therapy Intervention Impacts Motor and Cognitive Outcomes in Infants With Neuromotor Disorders: A Multisite Randomized Clinical Trial, the authors report on the primary impacts of the intervention. They found that for those infants with more significant motor delay, those who received START-Play had greater improvements in cognition, fine motor skills, and problem-solving (at the 3-month follow up), and greater improvements were maintained for fine motor skills and for reaching at the 12-month follow up when compared to the infants receiving usual care. In addition to the Arnold Award, this manuscript won another prestigious research award from the American Physical Therapy Association, the Chattanooga Award, which recognizes authors who publish work in the association’s journal, Physical Therapy Journal.

The most recent Arnold award was for the research team’s new secondary outcomes manuscript, Early vs. Late Reaching Mastery’s Effect on Object Permanence in Infants with Motor Delays Receiving START-Play and Usual Care Early Intervention.[1] Object permanence is the cognitive construct that allows us to maintain a continual mental representation of an object, an important working memory skill for infants to develop. This manuscript reports that, overall, infants who mastered the motor skill of reaching early showed greater development of object permanence understanding than infants who mastered reaching later. Children who reached early and also received the START-Play intervention continued to improve their object permanence understanding to a greater degree than children receiving usual care. This study extended our understanding of how object permanence relates to developing motor skills, described in the authors’ previous publication, which revealed that object permanence skills improved as sitting skills improved. Together, these two papers show how developing the motor skills of sitting and reaching are important to building cognitive skills and understanding objects in the world.

After accepting the award, Dr. Harbourne answered some questions from NCSER about her team’s research on START-Play.

What was the motivation behind your work on developing and testing the efficacy of START-Play? 

Early intervention services for children with motor delays or dysfunction are often siloed into disciplines by functional areas. For example, educators address cognitive skills and physical therapists address only motor skills. But our study supported the idea that early learning that combines movement with problem solving can advance cognitive skills, problem-solving, and fine motor skills, all areas important to eventual success in school.

What do your results tell us about how the intervention is working and its implications for implementation?  

Because we found that adding problem-solving and cognitive challenges to our motor intervention did not slow progress in motor skills, we believe that integrating motor and cognitive challenges may be better for overall development than separating these areas during service delivery. We also had a strong fidelity of intervention program, assuring that the key ingredients of the intervention were adhered to, and that it was clearly different from usual care. However, one implication is that early interventionists need further training to deliver this type of service to families of children with significant motor delays.

Please tell us about your current and ongoing work on START-Play. How are you moving forward with these positive results?

We are currently examining the data from our long-term follow-up study that we conducted with supplemental funding through NCSER. We are also working on a study, funded through NIH, to look at a dose-matched comparison of START-Play intervention with a formalized version of usual care called MORE-PT for infants with cerebral palsy. In addition, we have developed an online continuing education course that translates our findings from the original START-Play study and will help therapists to implement the key ingredients of START-Play in early intervention. We are excited to work on implementation and hope to gain further understanding of the implementation process as we move forward.

Regina (Reggie) Harbourne is the director of the infant development lab and associate professor of physical therapy in the Rangos School of Health Sciences, Duquesne University. This blog was produced by Amy Sussman, the program officer for NCSER’s Early Intervention and Early Learning program.


[1] Manuscripts are submitted for review for this award before they are published. Although AACPDM has first option to publish the wining manuscripts, the paper is not yet published or available publicly.

What Do NCES Data Tell Us About America’s Kindergartners?

Happy Get Ready for Kindergarten Month! 

For more than 20 years, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has been collecting information about kindergartners’ knowledge and skills as part of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies (ECLS) program.

The first ECLS, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998–99 (ECLS-K), focused on children in kindergarten in the 1998–99 school year. At the time the ECLS-K began, no large national study focused on education had followed a cohort of children from kindergarten entry through the elementary school years. Some of today’s commonly known information about young children, such as the information about kindergartners’ early social and academic skills shown in the infographics below, comes out of the ECLS-K. For example, we all know that children arrive at kindergarten with varied knowledge and skills; the ECLS-K was the first study to show at a national level that this was the case and to provide the statistics to highlight the differences in children’s knowledge and skills by various background factors.



The second ECLS kindergarten cohort study, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011), is the ECLS-K’s sister study. This study followed the students who were in kindergarten during the 2010–11 school year. The ECLS-K:2011, which began more than a decade after the inception of the ECLS-K, allows for comparisons of children in two nationally representative kindergarten classes experiencing different policy, educational, and demographic environments. For example, significant changes that occurred between the start of the ECLS-K and the start of the ECLS-K:2011 include the passage of No Child Left Behind legislation, a rise in school choice, and an increase in English language learners. 

From the parents of children in the ECLS-K:2011, we learned how much U.S. kindergartners like school, as shown in the following infographic.



The ECLS program studies also provide information on children’s home learning environments and experiences outside of school that may contribute to learning. For example, we learned from the ECLS-K:2011 what types of activities kindergartners were doing with their parents at least once a month (see the infographic below).


Infographic titled How do kindergarteners like school?


What’s next for ECLS data collections on kindergartners? NCES is excited to be getting ready to launch our next ECLS kindergarten cohort study, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2023–24 (ECLS-K:2024)

Before the ECLS-K:2024 national data collections can occur, the ECLS will conduct a field test—a trial run of the study to test the study instruments and procedures—in the fall of 2022.

If you, your child, or your school are selected for the ECLS-K:2024 field test or national study, please participate! While participation is voluntary, it is important so that the study can provide information that can be used at the local, state, and national levels to guide practice and policies that increase every child’s chance of doing well in school. The ECLS-K:2024 will be particularly meaningful, as it will provide important information about the experiences of children whose early lives were shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch this video to learn more about participation in the ECLS-K:2024. For more information on the ECLS studies and the data available on our nation’s kindergartners, see the ECLS homepage, review our online training modules, or email the ECLS study team.

 

By Jill Carlivati McCarroll, NCES

Announcing the Condition of Education 2022 Release

NCES is pleased to present the 2022 edition of the Condition of Education. The Condition is part of a 150-year tradition at NCES and provides historical and contextual perspectives on key measures of educational progress to Congress and the American public. This report uses data from across NCES and from other sources and is designed to help policymakers and the public monitor the latest developments and trends in U.S. education.

Cover of Report on the Condition of Education with IES logo and photos of children reading and writing

The foundation of the Condition of Education is a series of online indicators. Fifty-two of these indicators include content that has been updated this year. Each indicator provides detailed information on a unique topic, ranging from prekindergarten through postsecondary education, as well as labor force outcomes and international comparisons. In addition to the online indicator system, a synthesized overview of findings across topics is presented in the Report on the Condition of Education.

This year, we are excited to begin the rollout of interactive figures. These new interactive figures will empower users to explore the data in different ways. A selection of these indicators are highlighted here. They show various declines in enrollment that occurred during the coronavirus pandemic, from early childhood through postsecondary education. (Click the links below to explore the new interactive figures!)

  • From 2019 to 2020, enrollment rates of young children fell by 6 percentage points for 5-year-olds (from 91 to 84 percent) and by 13 percentage points for 3- to 4-year-olds (from 54 to 40 percent).
  • Public school enrollment in prekindergarten through grade 12 dropped from 50.8 million in fall 2019 to 49.4 million students in fall 2020. This 3 percent drop brought total enrollment back to 2009 levels (49.4 million), erasing a decade of steady growth.
  • At the postsecondary level, total undergraduate enrollment decreased by 9 percent from fall 2009 to fall 2020 (from 17.5 million to 15.9 million students). For male and female students, enrollment patterns exhibited similar trends between 2009 and 2019 (both decreasing by 5 percent). However, from 2019 to 2020, female enrollment fell 2 percent, while male enrollment fell 7 percent. Additionally, between 2019 and 2020, undergraduate enrollment fell 5 percent at public institutions and 2 percent at private nonprofit institutions. In contrast, undergraduate enrollment at for-profit institutions was 4 percent higher in fall 2020 than in fall 2019, marking the first positive single year change in enrollments at these institutions since 2010. Meanwhile, at the postbaccalaureate level, enrollment increased by 10 percent between fall 2009 and fall 2020 (from 2.8 million to 3.1 million students).
  • Educational attainment is associated with economic outcomes, such as employment and earnings, as well as with changes in these outcomes during the pandemic. Compared with 2010, employment rates among 25- to 34-year-olds were higher in 2021 only for those with a bachelor’s or higher degree (84 vs 86 percent). For those who had completed high school and those with some college, employment rates increased from 2010 to 2019, but these gains were reversed to 68 and 75 percent, respectively, during the coronavirus pandemic. For those who had not completed high school, the employment rate was 53 percent in 2021, which was not measurably different from 2019 or 2010.

This year’s Condition also includes two spotlight indicators. These spotlights use data from the Household Pulse Survey (HPS) to examine education during the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Homeschooled Children and Reasons for HomeschoolingThis spotlight opens with an examination of historical trends in homeschooling, using data from the National Household Education Survey (NHES). Then, using HPS, this spotlight examines the percentage of adults with students under 18 in the home who were homeschooled during the 2020–21 school year. Some 6.8 percent of adults with students in the home reported that at least one child was homeschooled in 2020–21. The percentage was higher for White adults (7.4 percent) than for Black adults (5.1 percent) and for Asian adults (3.6 percent). It was also higher for Hispanic adults (6.5 percent) than for Asian adults.
  • Impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic on Fall Plans for Postsecondary Education: This spotlight uses HPS data to examine changes in plans for fall 2021 postsecondary education made in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Among adults 18 years old and over who had household members planning to take classes in fall 2021 from a postsecondary institution, 44 percent reported that there was no change for any household member in their fall plans for postsecondary classes. This is compared with 28 percent who reported no change in plans for at least one household member one year earlier in the pandemic, for fall 2020.

The Condition also includes an At a Glance section, which allows readers to quickly make comparisons within and across indicators, as well as a Reader’s Guide, a Glossary, and a Guide to Sources that provide additional information to help place the indicators in context. In addition, each indicator references the source data tables that were used to produce that indicator. Most of these are in the Digest of Education Statistics.

In addition to publishing the Condition of Education, NCES produces a wide range of other reports and datasets designed to help inform policymakers and the public about significant trends and topics in education. More information about the latest activities and releases at NCES may be found on our website or by following us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

 

By Peggy G. Carr, NCES Commissioner