MSU researchers receive $3.7 million grant to study language in children with autism

Posted at 11:27 PM, Apr 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-10 23:27:50-04

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Research shows that many young children on the autism spectrum experience language delays, so a team of MSU researchers has received a $3.7 million grant to study how these children process the language they hear from adults.

“The goal of this project is to know how best to simplify our language in a way that doesn't oversimplify,” said Courtney Venker, assistant professor in communicative sciences and disorders at MSU.

The other goal is to improve how language is taught and improve interactions between parents and their kids.

“What we're doing in this project is trying to understand more about how to support their language development or help facilitate that,” Venker said.

Venker and her research team will bring in over 100 young children with autism from Michigan to MSU’s Lingo Lab.

The researchers will learn what a child is understanding based on eye movement assessments.

“They might hear something like the doggy is swimming. And when they know the meaning of doggy and swimming, what we see is that their eyes move to the picture that was described. So in that way, we can get a sense of what kids are understanding just by where they're I'm eye movements go and when,” Venker explained.

Speech and language pathologist, Jenny Johnson will be helping the children through play-based eye gaze tasks.

“This research is really important because we will be able to use what we learned from this project, to support the recommendations that we give to families, we are always recommending that families provide a really rich language environment for their children,” Johnson said.

The $3.7 million will go toward developing staff and training students to come in, observe, and learn. They also plan to use some of the resources to provide compensation for the families, and buy toys.

The researchers are looking for ages 2-4, they hope to begin their 5-year project in early 2023.

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