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Meadow Crest students participating in UW autism study

Renton’s Meadow Crest Early Learning Center is participating in the Preschool Autism Literacy Study, facilitated by the University of Washington.

The study is designed to see how well students with autism fare with 15 minutes of one-on-one tutoring and intensive instruction. Meadow Crest has about 330 students in its inclusive preschool, including about 23 kids who have been diagnosed and are in the full- day kindergarten program. Just five of the students are participating in the study, with four in the intervention group and one in the control group.

Valerie Li, the autism coordinator for Meadow Crest, has seen more and more children with the condition enrolling at the school.

“People in the U.S. are affected by autism,” Li said, citing a recent Center for Disease Control report that put the prevalence at 1 in 66. “That study was only done in nine states, so it may not be reflective, but definitely we’ve seen a lot more kids come in with a definite diagnosis, or parents thinking that they might have autism, even if they haven’t been diagnosed.”

According to the researchers and educator, no one has studied how literacy works in students with autism. All the participants in the study needed to have a certain language ability before they could participate, according to Li.

So the study is with the school’s higher-functioning autism students. Most of the 30-some children diagnosed as  autistic at Meadow Crest are fairly non-verbal.

“First, we are investigating two promising emergent literacy interventions for the young children,” wrote Roxanne Hudson, principal study investigator, in an email. “Last year we studied Dialogic Reading and this year we are studying Phonological Awareness and next year we will do interventions in both of them. Second, we are determining the long term effects of the interventions by following the children into kindergarten and assessing them in early reading skills.”

The last thing the study hopes to achieve is figuring out what early literacy skills predict higher reading achievement in kindergarten.

So far, researchers have discovered that children in the Dialogic Reading Intervention had a much higher expressive vocabulary than the children in the control group.

The study is being carried out in seven school districts: Renton, Issaquah, Bellevue, Lake Washington, Shoreline, Edmonds and the Haring Center at UW.

The study began in the summer of 2012 and will continue until the summer of 2016. The goal is to have 65 students participating next year in the study. Presently there are 49 students participating.

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