EnglishDevelopmental & Educational Psychology

Neurodiversity: Using the New ESB to Understand Social Communication

Neurodiversity and ASD

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been defined as a neurodevelopmental disorder marked by differences in social communication and the presence of restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviors and interests (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Children with neurodiverse needs, including those with ASD or other language delays, exhibit a different, or diverse, manner of language development. There really is no “correct” or “incorrect” way for children’s brains to work – but a wide range of ways that children and adults perceive and respond to the world. These differences should be embraced, as a main goal of the neurodiversity movement is to shine a light on the benefits of this diversity. When we recognize and support children with neurodivergent conditions, we ultimately create a safer environment fostering their unique strengths.

Assessment of Skills Using the ESB

The Early Sociocognitive Battery (ESB) was developed to identify early indicators of social communication difficulties and ASD in children with language delay, on the grounds that children with a “late” diagnosis of ASD are often reported to have had language delay in their early years. Primarily a nonverbal assessment tool suitable for use with children 18 months up to 5 years old, the ESB is a quick assessment, typically taking about 15 minutes to administer.

The ESB was recently normed with more than 500 children across the U.S., with testing taking place in 21 different states, and a match confirmed close to the recent Census data. During the standardization process, results indicated minimal differences between gender and ethnicity. Also, as the assessment is primarily nonverbal, results showed no significant difference between children with diverse linguistic backgrounds compared to those who only spoke English. 

The ESB is a battery of three subtests measuring social communication difficulties:

  • Social Responsiveness: does the child show an interest in other people? This first subtest acts as a warm-up, play-based task that requires minimal response from the child and helps ease them into the testing session.
  • Joint Attention: does the child show a shared interest in an object with the adult? This second subtest requires the child to follow the examiner’s gaze.
  • Symbolic Comprehension: does the child understand how objects can “stand-in” for other objects when looking at miniatures and following the gestures provided by the examiner? 

Identification of deficiencies in these key sociocognitive skills help early childhood professionals target their intervention strategies appropriately. Without this early identification, opportunities for early intervention are missed.

The ESB in Action

A workshop held recently at the NASP 2024 Annual Convention allowed participants to learn more about the development of the ESB, and to practice administration procedures. Participants commented on the value of this coaching opportunity as it helped to refine their understanding of the ESB, and how it might fit into their evaluation process. The new ESB is expected to be useful before a referral (to determine if a larger assessment process is warranted), as a part of a battery of tests being used after the referral, or as an initial evaluation, after which the psychologist or speech professional continues to monitor progress and refine goals.

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