TWU faculty members receive grant to assist children with autism

March 25, 2020 - DENTON - Texas Woman’s Associate Professor Jyutika Mehta, PhD, and Professor Cynthia Gill, EdD, of the Department of Communication Sciences and Oral Health, received a grant for $291,847 from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to fund their work on autism.

The grant was developed to investigate a promising practice, Imitation Therapy, for children with autism who do not communicate. Although speech-language pathologists can provide Imitation Therapy in a clinical setting, parents also can provide consistent intervention in the home at no cost. The National Research Council (NRC) in 2001 indicated that parent-led interventions play an important role in the effectiveness of early intervention, and it falls under evidence-based practice for Autism Spectrum Disorders. 

“At this time, not many evidence-based interventions are designed as ‘parent-led interventions,’ and there is a significant need in this area,” said Mehta. “With this grant, we aim to fill some of the gap by training parents to lead intervention with their child in their home. Our prior research has indicated that treating children in a clinical setting was very effective in stimulating their verbalizations and increasing their interactions. However, since parents are around their children much more often than the therapists, we propose that parents could be trained to implement treatment much more frequently and consistently.” 

“This grant couldn't have come at a better time,” Gill added. “Instead of coming to our clinics and being treated by speech-language pathologists, we will train the parents to carry out the therapy. In this time of social distancing, this treatment could help ease the burden for children who can’t get to our clinics for help.”

About 300 children diagnosed with autism and their families are expected to be enrolled in the study over a period of two years. The researchers anticipate beginning the parent training in early June.

The grant not only will help children with autism, but it reinforces TWU’s commitment to research and will allow TWU students to be involved as well. Mehta and Gill will serve as the primary faculty investigators, and doctoral student Muchinka Peele will assist them.

“The grant will help us to further the strategic plans of the department by increasing research funding, involving students in various aspects of research protocols and increasing our knowledge of effective treatments for speech and language disorders,” said Mehta.

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Page last updated 5:05 PM, April 14, 2020