Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Social Skills Intervention for Children with Autism during Interactive Play at a Public Elementary School

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Social Skills Intervention for Children with Autism during Interactive Play at a Public Elementary School

Article excerpt

Abstract

We evaluated a social skills intervention with four children who had autism during interactive play with typical peers at a public elementary school. Paraprofessional staff (classroom assistants) used preteaching, rewards, and prompting to increase social initiations by the children toward peers. The children's social responses to peer initiations also were measured and rewarded. Intervention was introduced in a multiple baseline design and produced increases in social interactions between the children and peers. The application of social skills training in naturalistic settings and topics for future research are discussed.

KEYWORDS: autism, social skills, behavioral teaching, public schools, single-case designs

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Children with autism frequently need intervention to acquire functional and age-appropriate social skills (Schopler & Mesibov, 1986). Poor social skills impede learning opportunities available during peer interactions and make it difficult for children to establish friendships. In many cases, behavior problems also may be associated with inadequate social skills development. Accordingly, teaching social skills is a common educational objective for school-age children who have autism (Weiss & Harris, 2001).

DiSalvo and Oswald (2002) identified three approaches to social skills training. One category of procedures involves arranging interpersonal situations to promote peer interactions, such as integrated play groups (Wolfberg & Schuler, 1993), peer-buddy dyads (Laushey & Heflin, 20000, and peer tutoring sessions (Kamps, Dugan, Potucek, & Collins, 1999). The second intervention approach includes having typical peers increase their social initiations towards the child with autism (Odom & Strain, 1986; Odom & Watts, 1991), facilitating interaction by building school-based peer networks (Garrison-Harrell, Kamps, & Kravitz, 1997), and implementing pivotal response training (Pierce & Schriebman, 1997). Finally, prompting children with autism to initiate social interactions with peers has been implemented effectively (Brady, McEvoy, Wehby, & Ellis, 1987; Gunter, Fox, Brady, Shores, & Cavanaugh, 1988; Zanolli, Dagget, & Adams, 1996).

Given the many social skills training methods that have been evaluated, practitioners have several considerations when formulating intervention. Although many children with autism attend public schools (U. S. Department of Education, 2001), attempting to improve social skills simply by increasing their proximity to peers who do not have a developmental disability may be insufficient (Carr & Darcy, 1990; Myles, Simpson, Ormsbee, & Erikson, 1993; Roeyers, 1996). Instead, skill acquisition often requires adult delivered intervention that prompts and reinforces desirable social interactions. However, most training research has concentrated on the social responses of children with autism and not their social initiations. As posited by Weiss and Harris (2001), making initiations toward peers is critical because it "ensures that children with autism have skills in orchestrating interactions, and not simply in responding to the overtures of others" (p. 791).

The purpose of the following study was to evaluate a multicomponent social skills intervention for children with autism attending public school. Relative to previous research, the study emphasized the children's social responses but additionally, targeted their initiated interactions. We also had the objective of evaluating training under the most naturalistic conditions by having school personnel implement procedures during regularly-scheduled play periods. To this end, the primary contributions of the study were documenting intervention-facilitated increases in both social initiations and responses, using methods that were integrated into the daily instructional routines of paraprofessional staff.

Method

Participants and Setting

Participants were three boys and one girl who had been diagnosed by independent evaluators as having autistic disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). …

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