Changing the speech of autistic children and their parents

Sandra L. Harris, Sharlene Wolchik, Rona E. Milch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


The parents of nine autistic preschool children were trained in behavior modification and operant techniques of teaching speech. The study used a multiple baseline design with Group 1 completing behavior modification training while Group 2 remained on the waiting list. Then, Group 1 entered speech training while Group 2 began behavior modification. Finally, Group 2 received speech training. Videotape assessments of parents and child were made pretreatment and after each stage of training. The tapes were coded reliably for the parents’ speech oriented and non-speech oriented language and the childrens’ speech and non-speech behaviors. There was no change in parental speech oriented language following behavior modification but a substantial rise in such language was noted after speech training. Both mothers and fathers changed after training, although mothers were consistently more active than fathers. Both before and after training, the parents of the more verbal children emitted more speech oriented language than the parents of the mute children. The children showed changes which paralleled those of the parents. There was no significant change in child speech after behavior modification, but a rise in children’s speech was obvious when their parents completed the speech training. The verbal children accounted for the changes in the two groups since the mute children showed Iittle evidence of change. The results suggest that parents of nonverbal chiIdren can learn to modify their language behavior and that this parent training can be done in an economical group setting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-173
Number of pages23
JournalChild and Family Behavior Therapy
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Mar 7 1983

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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