The Relationship Between Augmentative and Alternative Communication Use by Pediatric Psychiatric Inpatients With Autism Spectrum Disorder and Interfering Behaviors

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Pediatrics, Psychiatry

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American journal of speech-language pathology


PURPOSE: Previous research conducted by Williams et al. (2018) using data from the Autism Inpatient Collection (AIC) found a weak and inconsistent association between verbal ability and the severity of interfering behaviors; however, adapting/coping scores were significantly associated with self-injury, stereotypy, and irritability (including aggression and tantrums). The previous study did not account for access to or use of alternative forms of communication in their sample population. This study uses retrospective data to investigate the association between verbal ability and augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) use and the presence of interfering behaviors in individuals with autism who have complex behavioral profiles. METHOD: The sample included 260 autistic inpatients, ages 4-20 years, from six psychiatric facilities, enrolled during the second phase of the AIC when detailed information about AAC use was collected. Measures included AAC use, method, and function; comprehension and production of language; receptive vocabulary; nonverbal IQ; severity of interfering behaviors; and the presence and severity of repetitive behaviors. RESULTS: Lower language/communication abilities were related to increased repetitive behaviors and stereotypies. More specifically, these interfering behaviors appeared to be related to communication in those individuals who were candidates for AAC but who were not reported to have access to it. Although the use of AAC did not predict a decrease in interfering behaviors, receptive vocabulary scores-as measured by the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Fourth Edition-were positively correlated with the presence of interfering behaviors in participants with the most complex communication needs. CONCLUSIONS: The communication needs of some individuals with autism may be unmet, prompting the use of interfering behaviors as a form of communication. Further investigation of the functions of interfering behaviors and the related functions of communication skills may provide greater support for an increased focus on the provision of AAC to prevent and ameliorate interfering behaviors in individuals with autism.

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