Apr. 3, 1998 By Victoria White
GAINESVILLE, Fla.---The National Institute of Nursing Research has awarded a $350,000 grant to a University of Florida program designed to improve communication and social interactions between autistic children and their fathers.
"Children with autism frequently become frustrated trying to communicate because they are delayed in processing verbal and nonverbal cues," said Jennifer H. Elder, assistant professor in the College of Nursing's department of health-care environments and systems and principal investigator for the program.
"In the past, I have taught mothers strategies for promoting social turn-taking and establishing more balanced parent-child interactions. This helps children learn new words and promotes their overall communication skills."
But she found that the techniques the mothers had learned were not being emulated by fathers and other family members.
"This time, I want to find out what happens if the fathers are trained," Elder said. "What effect will this have on the child? And will mothers learn the skills from fathers?" She also will gather data on whether other children in the family pick up the techniques the fathers are learning.The training will be offered to 24 families in their homes in two or three sessions per week for three to four months. The training will be videotaped for use in ongoing research to evaluate the program's effectiveness.
The incidence of autism is estimated to be one per thousand. Autism is characterized by severe deficits in social and language development. Often, people with autism can recite facts and figures, but have trouble putting the pieces together in a social context.
Elder's grant was a First Independent Research Support and Transition award from the National Institute of Nursing Research at the National Institutes of Health. The award is designed to give researchers in the early stages of their careers the resources to demonstrate the merit of their ideas.
College of Medicine researchers involved in the program are: Gregory Valcante, Ralph G. Maurer, Mark Lewis and P. Jane Mutch. Hossein Yarandi and Beth Barnette of the College of Nursing; Henry S. Pennypacker Jr., College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' psychology department; and Margaret Stone, of UF's Multidisciplinary Diagnostic and Training Project, also will participate.
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