Positive results reported for novel speech training program
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This artilce also appeared in the 2016, volume 4 issue of ARI's Autism Research Review International newsletter.

A technique called Auditory-Motor Mapping Training (AMMT) may significantly improve the communication skills of minimally verbal children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), according to a new study.

AMMT combines “sung” speech with the use of specially tuned drums in order to build new connections in the brain. In the procedure, a therapist sings two-syllable words or phrases, using a different pitch for each syllable, while simultaneously tapping on a drum tuned to the same two pitches. Children first listen and then participate in speaking and drumming. The final goal is for the children to produce the words or phrases independently.

The researchers recently tested the therapy on 23 minimally verbal children with ASD, comparing them to seven children with ASD who underwent traditional Speech Repetition Therapy (SRT). All children participated in at least 25 therapy sessions.

Comparing children’s performance after AMMT therapy to their baseline performance, the researchers found that the children exhibited a 19.4% increase in syllables approximated, a 13.8% increase in consonants spoken correctly, and a 19.1% increase in correct vowels. Compared to the SRT group, they produced 29% more syllables approximated, 17.9% more consonants spoken correctly, and 17.6% more correct vowels. A majority of children in the AMMT group showed improvement on each of the three outcome measures, and more children responded to therapy in the AMMT group than in the SRT group. The children’s pre-treatment ability to imitate phonemes, but not their age or baseline performance, correlated significantly with the amount of improvement they exhibited after therapy.

The researchers note that while their study focused on pronunciation, children in the AMMT group experienced gains in a wide range of skills. “Therapists noted that children’s ability to attend to the clinician, participate in turn-taking activities (such as rolling a ball back and forth during breaks), and make specific requests (for, e.g., snacks, sensory input such as squeezes, favorite motivators, bathroom breaks) improved over the course of treatment,” they say. “In addition, many children learned to associate the target words with their respective pictures, often spontaneously naming them during Step 1. Finally, both parents and clinicians noted an increase in speechlike vocalization on the part of many of the children. That is, participants engaged in more vocal play, an important precursor to speech development in typically developing children. Thus, AMMT may offer additional benefit in the areas of social communication and receptive language, help ‘jumpstart’ the speech development process in some minimally verbal children with ASD, and further improve their ability to intentionally vocalize.”

“Auditory-Motor Mapping Training: Comparing the effects of a novel speech treatment to a control treatment for minimally verbal children with autism,” Karen Chenausky, Andrea Norton, Helen Tager-Flusberg, and Gottfried Schlaug, PLOS One, November 9, 2019 (free online). Address: Gottfried Schlaug, gschlaug @bidmc.harvard.edu.

—see also—

“Auditory-Motor Mapping Training as an intervention to facilitate speech output in non-verbal children with autism: A proof of concept study,” Catherine Y. Wan, Loes Bazen, Rebecca Baars, Amanda Libenson, Lauryn Zipse, Jennifer Zuk, Andrea Norton, and Gottfried Schlaug, PLOS One, September 2011 (free online). Addresss: [email protected] bidmc.harvard,edu