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IES Grant

Title: Optimizing Emergent Literacy Interventions for Children with Autism
Center: NCSER Year: 2018
Principal Investigator: Fleury, Veronica Awardee: University of Minnesota
Program: Early Career Development and Mentoring      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (07/01/2018 - 06/30/2022) Award Amount: $399,986
Goal: Training Award Number: R324B180023

Mentors: McConnell, Scott; Dupuis, Danielle; Gunlicks-Stoessel, Meredith

Purpose: The Principal Investigator (PI) will conduct a program of research aimed at developing effective emergent literacy instruction for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) while participating in mentoring and training activities to develop knowledge and skills related to adaptive interventions, sequential multiple assignment randomized trial (SMART) designs, publication, and grant funding. Findings from emerging research suggest that many children with ASD demonstrate early signs of reading difficulty during the preschool years, which presents an opportunity for targeted instruction to build foundational emergent literacy skills that may prevent future reading failure. There is considerable evidence to support the efficacy of dialogic reading, a type of shared reading approach in which the adult uses specific question prompts to encourage children to engage in a conversation about the story. There is, however, limited guidance on how to intensify or modify a dialogic reading approach for students who require greater levels of support. In addition, questions remain regarding the appropriate length of the intervention and the most beneficial instructional arrangement (e.g., one-to-one or small group format). The PI intends to address these gaps by developing and testing an adaptive shared reading intervention to improve a broad range of emergent literacy skills for a heterogeneous group of preschool children with ASD.

Research Plan: The primary research aim is to develop and evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of an adaptive shared reading intervention for preschool children with ASD through a pilot SMART. Children with ASD will be recruited from participating classrooms at the start of every school year for a total of four cohorts. Those who are identified as “at-risk” according to an early literacy screening tool and meet other inclusion criteria (i.e., ages of 4-5, English speaking, ASD diagnosis, and some language facility) will be eligible to participate. Across all 4 years, the PI will develop and refine components of the adaptive intervention for children with ASD through a pilot SMART study. In each year, participating classroom teachers will be trained to implement dialogic reading in groups of three to four students. Classrooms will be randomized to a first-stage intervention condition — either an early decision (4 week) condition or a late decision (8 week) condition. At the decision point, children's vocabulary knowledge will be assessed. Children who are either high performers or fast developers will continue with the group dialogic reading intervention. All other children (i.e., slow to respond) will be randomized to one of two intensified instructional conditions (second-stage intervention), either a one-to-one instructional arrangement or a modified dialogic reading condition that is implemented in small groups with more systematic instruction. Children's early literacy development will be assessed using a variety of measures prior to and after the study. Additional measures include video recordings of teachers' instruction to evaluate fidelity and questionnaires to evaluate teachers' perceptions of feasibility and acceptability. These data will be analyzed descriptively. Data from the pilot study will be analyzed to address the following research questions: (1) How does child engagement during book reading compare across iterations of the adaptive intervention?; (2) At what time point should educators determine that a child is not likely to respond if the first-stage dialogic reading intervention is continued?; and (3) Among children who are slow to respond to the first-stage intervention, should educators implement the instruction individually or modify the instruction but continue the group format?

Career Plan: Through a career development plan, the PI intends to (1) develop expertise in adaptive interventions, (2) develop knowledge in the application and analysis of SMART designs, and (3) establish an independent program of research through publication and funding. To accomplish these goals, the PI will engage in regular meetings with mentors, attend institutes and workshops related to grant writing and research methods, engage in self-study of the adaptive intervention literature, form a journal club to facilitate scholarly discussion of SMART designs, and participate in writing accountability groups.