Salt Lake City, Utah 84108

  • Autistic Disorder


This is a one group pre-post feasibility study of an interdisciplinary (theatre, Occupational Therapy (OT) and Speech Language Pathology (SLP)) intervention targeted at social skill development in children, aged 3-4. The intervention uses process drama modified with OT and SLP techniques and using typically developing peer models . Feasibility outcomes are recruitment rates, retention rates, daily program records of ease of implementing the program, and record of modifications needed. Child primary outcomes are Social Skills Improvement Scale (SSIS) and the Theory of Mind (ToM) Battery and Inventory within 4 weeks of program end. Secondary outcomes will be the Structured Play Assessment (SPA) within 4 weeks post-intervention, observations of social interactions (e.g.,eye contract, joint attention, verbal utterances, physical contact) during intervention sessions, brain activity in frontal and temporal/parietal areas during ToM tasks measured by high density EEG within 4 weeks of program end, and parental interview at 3 months related to child's social skills.

Study summary:

Five children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and 3-5 typically developing (TD) children will complete baseline testing. The TD children will only complete the EEG testing, while the ASD children and their parents will complete all outcome assessments. In addition to the outcome measures listed in the Brief Summary, we will administer the Vineland Adaptive Behavioral Scales (Vineland - II), the Mullen Scales of Early Learning, and the Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale - II (if they have not had one administered within the past 12 months) for sample description. During the EEG session, brain activity during theory of mind and other social stimuli will be used to measure brain behavior relationships. The recordings will adhere to standard clinical EEG procedures, using high density EEG providing a high spatial resolution for electrical source imaging in brain space. They will be conducted by a Registered EEG Technologist (R. EEG T) with a specially trained student assistant. The procedure will involve first explaining to the parent and child what will be done. The participants will sit within a chair or a parent's lap while the EEG is recorded. The EEG tasks will consist of the following: First the child will be asked to open and close their eyes for a few minutes to record a baseline resting EEG. Then there will be both auditory sounds (intonations and word components) and images of social stimuli embedded between fun cartoon stimuli to maintain the child's attention displayed on a screen. The pictures will consist of eye movements, facial gestures, and point light diagrams of body movements. The process drama program will be conducted with 5 children with ASD and 3-5 TD peer models 3 days per week for 12 week for 1-1.5 hours each day. The program will consist of several sections. Each day will open with an opening ritual that is movement based involving mirroring activity. This is followed by a welcome/greeting activity, involving things like a song and Name activity. The remainder of the activities build around a story for the day. The story will be one that holds interest for young children, such as a day in the life of a tree who gets visited by animals and people. The story unfolds with problems to solve and social interactions to do. Participants and the drama teachers take on different roles to bring out the story. Engagement starts out with drama pieces that the children can do individually and progress to those requiring a partner and then small groups. The sessions close with a closing ritual, reminding the participants of what was done during the session and a song. All the activities focus on building understanding the emotions and intentions of others and appropriate social interactions. The setting of the program and the specific activities have been planned with a collaborative team of drama teachers, an occupational therapists, and a speech language pathologists. The process drama sessions will be taped and later scored for social interactions and social verbal and non-verbal communication. We will also examine the engagement of the participants with ASD to determine if we need to change/alter any procedures/techniques that we are using during the process drama sessions in subsequent versions of this research. We will also examine the behavior of the peer models to identify areas in which the research team may need to change to better engage the peer models in subsequent sessions. After the end of the process drama intervention, the participants with ASD will repeat the baseline assessments within 4 weeks of intervention end. The assessments that will be repeated are the ToMT, SPA and SSiS. The children with ASD will also complete another EEG session as they did at baseline. Parents will be interviewed at 3 months post-intervention regarding changes in social skills.


Inclusion Criteria: for children with ASD: - aged 3-4 years old - documented diagnosis of ASD from a licensed professional using DSM 5 criteria12; If no documentation available, meets cut off on Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale (ADOS -2)13 that will be administered by trained study staff. - passes language and cognitive screen (see attached screening document with decision rules) and a receptive language age equivalence of ≥30 months and a non-verbal age equivalent score of ≥30 months on the Mullen Scale of Early Learning - have a caregiver willing/able to bring them to the University for the study sessions and to schedule up to 3 assessment visits prior to intervention start and 3 assessment sessions after intervention end - family's primary language is English INCLUSION for TD children: - aged 3-4 - normal or corrected to normal vision and hearing - English speaking Exclusion Criteria: for children with ASD: - have no other major medical conditions (i.e., no genetic disorders such as Fragile X, Down syndrome) - seizure disorder - uncorrected hearing or visual impairment - other condition causing motor impairment, such as Cerebral Palsy Exclusion for TD children: - history of developmental delay or neurological disorder



Primary Contact:

Principal Investigator
Lorie G Richards, PhD
University of Utah

Backup Contact:


Location Contact:

Salt Lake City, Utah 84108
United States

There is no listed contact information for this specific location.

Site Status: N/A

Data Source:

Date Processed: June 23, 2021

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