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Increasing Vocalizations and Echoics in Infants at Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Infant siblings of children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis (i.e., infants at risk of ASD) are excellent candidates for early interventions based on the principles of applied behavior analysis. This study replicates and extends behavioral research using contingent social reinforcement procedures (i.e., vocal imitation and motherese speech) to increase both vocalizations and echoics among 3 infants at risk of ASD with their mothers in the natural environment. Results confirmed earlier findings that contingent reinforcement, specifically vocal imitation, reliably produces high rates of vocalizations, echoic approximations, and emerging pure echoic repertoires in at risk infants.

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The present study was not funded by any relevant grants or other funding sources.

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Correspondence to Hayley Neimy.

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The authors declare that no relevant conflicts of interest influenced the nature of the present research investigation.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Further, measures were taken to minimize any risks, harms, and/or discomforts. Risks, harms, and/or discomforts were minimized in various ways. First, additional session attendance was not requested of the participant in the event of a cancellation. Second, direct parent training sessions were terminated contingent on the child becoming visibly distraught or agitated (e.g., crying) for no more than 30 s maximum, based on the parent’s reported level of comfort at the onset of treatment. Last, if the parent requested to end or withdraw for any reason, the parent training sessions would have been terminated immediately.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from the parents of the infants who participated in the study. Specifically, if the parent’s child met the characteristics for participation in the study, and the parent provided consent-to-participation forms for both him- or herself and his or her child (via parental and child consent forms), the child would then begin the assessment procedures. The primary investigator was available and willing to answer any questions that the parent may have had regarding the study and his or her child’s participation throughout every session. Further, the consent form stressed that the parent may withdraw his or her child’s participation at any time and that all participation is purely voluntary in nature.

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Research Highlights

• Extends previously researched evidence-based approaches for establishing early communication skills in typically developing infants and children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to infants at risk of ASD.

• Demonstrates the efficacy of arranging and delivering contingent reinforcement in the form of motherese speech and vocal imitation to promote increased vocalizations and echoic repertoires in infants at risk of ASD.

• Delineates a brief methodology for quickly and easily implementing behavior-analytic treatment with parent-infant dyads in the context of the natural environment.

• May help improve social interactions between parents and their infants at risk of ASD by encouraging and facilitating the development of important early social behavioral cusps.

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Neimy, H., Pelaez, M., Monlux, K. et al. Increasing Vocalizations and Echoics in Infants at Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Behav Analysis Practice 13, 467–472 (2020).

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