Academic journal article The Journal of Early and Intensive Behavioral Intervention

Social Skills Interventions for Preschoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Description of Single-Subject Design Studies

Academic journal article The Journal of Early and Intensive Behavioral Intervention

Social Skills Interventions for Preschoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Description of Single-Subject Design Studies

Article excerpt

The term, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is commonly used to identify a family of disorders, including, Autistic Disorder, Asperger's Disorder, or Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual-IV, Text Revision (DSM-IV TR; American Psychiatric Association, 2000). An individual with ASD exhibits deficits in core areas including social development and social skills, language and communication skills, and repetitive, ritualistic, stereotyped behaviors. Across the ASD spectrum, the expression of these deficits ranges from mild to severe.

Social Skills Deficits in ASD

The primary deficit of ASD is social impairment (Romanczyk, White, & Gillis, 2005; Weiss, 2001; Weiss & Harris, 2001a). We use the term, social impairment to refer to any deficit or limitation or delay in social awareness, social competence, and social development. We define social skills as behaviors each person learns to facilitate awareness of his/her social environment and social contingencies, to be able to solve social problems (i.e., demonstrate social competence), and other behaviors that are developmentally appropriate.

Social skills deficits are common to all individuals with an ASD, are pervasive, and typically manifest at a very young age. The DSM-IV-TR (APA, 2000) lists the impairments in social interaction as: 1) deficits in nonverbal behaviors (e.g., eye-to-eye gaze, recognition of facial expressions, use of gestures to regulate social interaction), 2) failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to the child's developmental level, 3) lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment and interests (e.g., failure to show, bring, or point out objects of interest), and 4) lack of social or emotional reciprocity (e.g., unable to or does not respond to emotions or social interactions from others).

ASD is a heterogeneous disorder, meaning that one individual with ASD will have differing areas of social impairment with differing levels of severity from another individual with ASD.

Additional examples of social impairment observed in children with ASD include difficulties initiating social interactions, responding to the social initiations of others, initiating or responding to joint attention, and recognizing emotions in self. Areas of social impairment frequently observed in preschool age children with ASD include social play, dramatic play, friendship-seeking behavior, and cooperative play. Poor motivation to learn social behaviors or to engage in social activities is also commonly observed in children with ASD. These comprise only a fraction of social skills observed in individuals with ASD.

The extant literature suggests that early social impairments greatly impact future relationships, employment, independent living, and other mental health issues (e.g., anxiety, depression) (Bellini, 2004; Strain & Scwartz, 2001; Tantam, 2000). Thus, there should be an emphasis for intervention to occur early and to focus on the development of social skills in order to build social interactions and relationships. Unfortunately, it remains unclear as to which social skills are important to teach that will lead to better outcomes in areas related to social impairment for children with ASD. An issue that remains elusive and is of equal importance is to determine the specific types of interventions that effectively teach social skills.

Normal Social Skills Development in Preschoolers

Typical social development in preschool age children (i.e., ages two through five) involves the development of social interactions with peers and development of play behaviors. For all children, play begins with nonsocial or solitary play, when a child is content to play alone with toys/objects with or without the engagement of others in the same play activity. Children then develop parallel play, which is when a child plays with the same toys as another child, but does not necessarily interact with the other child (Rubin, Fein, & Vandenberg, 1983). …

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