Minimally Verbal School-Aged Children with Autism: Communication, Academic Engagement and Classroom Quality
Minimally verbal school aged children with autism (MVSACwA) receive the bulk of their behavioral and academic support in schools yet we know little about the environments to which they are exposed. This population of children has often been excluded from studies and thus, underrepresented in current data on autism. As increasing numbers of minimally verbal school aged children with autism enter into public school special and regular education classrooms, it is crucial that research literature explores the classroom dynamics of this population. The present study set out to better understand how MVSACwA were academically, socially and communicatively engaged in the contexts in which they spend the most time during the day by characterizing classroom quality and adult-child interactions in schools. Thirty-five MVSACwA were observed in their classrooms for two hours during their typical morning routine. This descriptive, exploratory study had four main findings. Minimally verbal school aged children with autism were 1) mostly unengaged in classroom activities, 2) they communicated frequently but rarely with gesture use, 3) adults missed many of their communicative attempts, and 4) when adults and children engaged it was more often with aides than with teachers. When grouped by cognitive impairment or classroom quality, results were driven more by child cognitive impairment than classroom quality.