Update: From Pointing to Naming

By Crystal Fernandez, 2020 Sidney W. and Janet R. Bijou Grantee

Overall status
The purpose of this letter is to describe the status of the project: From Pointing to Naming. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been some significant difficulties adhering to the previously established timeline. I will highlight how I addressed these challenges so far, how I plan to address the difficulties in 2020 with an updated timeline, and the areas of progress over the past year.

Unanticipated difficulties
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact in the North Texas area, adhering to the previously established timeline was difficult. First, the Autism Treatment Program at Easterseals North Texas closed permanently following shelter-in-place orders in Texas. As you might be aware, this was our designated research site that provided a letter of support for the proposed project and where we also had Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval through the University of North Texas. At the time of closure, we ran one pilot participant and were implementing intervention procedures for another participant. With the closure, we were unable to finish collecting data for the second participant, and we were unable to recruit additional participants as anticipated.

In addition, the prevalence of COVID-19 in North Texas during Summer 2020, Fall 2020, and Winter 2021 prevented IRB approval for in-person research projects. To address this, we worked on forming remote partnerships with colleagues who had therapists working face to face with children with autism during Fall 2020 and Winter 2021. These remote partnerships allowed us to coach therapists in project implementation over Zoom. However, we were unable to implement all phases of the project as intended due to being remote. From these partnerships, we have run two pilot participants and will soon begin with additional participants. Below, I will describe the implementation of the project so far and outcomes from these participants.

To address the closure of our in-person partner site in North Texas, we have identified two potential sites where we can recruit participants and conduct the project in-person. With vaccinations significantly increasing in Texas, it is likely the IRB at the University of North Texas will begin approving implementation of projects that involve in-person contact by Fall 2021. We are aiming to begin in-person project implementation at one or both of the established partner sites by Fall 2021. Prior to Fall 2021, we will continue working with our remote site to implement the project with participants and therapists via Zoom.

Progress made
Although 2020 presented many challenges in completing the project as intended, we were able to implement parts of the project with pilot participants at remote sites via Zoom. An important outcome from our work with the remote participants is that our results have led to procedural modifications that will likely benefit future participants.

For example, we implemented the program with one participant from group three (i.e., presence of listener and speaker behavior but no evidence of naming). Analysis of data from this participant suggested the need to assess the delayed echoic repertoire, in order to see if 1:1 correspondence of target vocal stimuli maintains without an immediate model present. In addition to assessing for this repertoire, we will also include an intervention phase that targets transfer from hear/say to a see/say response chain. This will follow Phase 1 of the intervention procedures.

At our remote partner site, we will soon begin intervention procedures with participants from the first and second group as identified in the proposal (i.e., children without both listener and speaker behavior; children with listener, but no speaker).

To address the challenges described above, an updated timeline is included. The project will now span until end of 2022, with analysis and presentation of results in early to mid 2023, to make up for the difficulties encountered with running participants in 2020.

Learn more about Crystal Fernandez and her research.

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