NYU Needs Children of All Abilities in Important Autism Language Study

Words like "mama," "dada," and "ball," may come fairly easily to many tots, but have you ever wondered how kids master more complicated concepts like verbs, adjectives, pronouns, and abstract nouns? Well, a team of researchers at NYU's LEARN Lab is eagerly looking for answers in the hopes of ultimately helping caregivers better communicate with children who have autism spectrum disorder–a condition that's often accompanied by minor to severe language delays. In order to further this important research, they need kiddos with and without the disorder to come play in the lab for an hour or so, and they're even sending the participants home with a gift card and a book.

While the long-term goal of this project is to help support language and communication for those with autism spectrum disorder, the team at NYU first needs to further understand how all kids learn to comprehend language, and how caregivers support that learning. In order to do that, the researchers are using a "strengths-based approach," meaning they're trying to figure out how children learn best and thinking about whether they can use those strengths to actually teach new vocabulary.

Participating families will need to visit the LEARN Lab, where kids can spend some time getting comfortable in the play area, before taking part in a special game. During the game, caregivers describe a picture to their child, and the researchers use specially-developed eye tracking technology to see how quickly the child understands the description and looks at the correct picture. By learning how caregivers describe things to children, the researchers hope to figure out what kind of language kids find easiest to understand.

In order to participate, your little one needs to be between the ages of 2 and 6, and can either have autism spectrum disorder—verbal or non-verbal—or be neurotypically developing. Families should expect to spend one to two hours at the lab, and can schedule their appointment Monday through Saturday between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm. At the end of the session, they'll head home with a $20 gift card and a children's book of their choice. Also, keep in mind that you'll be given information from any standardized testing your child completes as part of the study, but participating kids won't receive any type of therapy.

Interested in taking part and showing your support for this important study? You'll find more information and FAQs here, plus you can watch this video about the research. Once you're ready to move forward, the first step is to sign up for the participant database (note that signing up does not obligate you to participate). You can also call LEARN Lab at (212) 998-5602 or email them at learnlab@nyu.edu.

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