Academic journal article The California School Psychologist

Promoting the Social and Cognitive Competence of Children with Autism: Interventions at School

Academic journal article The California School Psychologist

Promoting the Social and Cognitive Competence of Children with Autism: Interventions at School

Article excerpt

Addressing the needs of children with autism in the school context is an essential component of facilitating the success of these students. This article provides an overview of scientifically based and promising interventions that may be used to promote the social and cognitive competence of children with autism, focusing on the research base of these particular strategies. Brief descriptions and outcome data are provided for: a) Discrete Trial Training (DTT), b) Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT), c) Learning Experiences: An Alternative Program for Preschoolers and Parents (LEAP), d) The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), e) Incidental teaching, and f) The Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEAGCH). This article aims to bring science to practice through providing school psychologists and other educational professionals with a primer for selecting evidence-based approaches to address the needs of children with autism.

KEYWORDS: Autism, Social, Behavioral, Academic, Cognitive, Intervention, School

A review of prevalence studies published since 2000 indicated that recent studies provide converging evidence of approximately 60 per 10,000 children diagnosed with autism, a notable increase from previous estimates of 10 per 10,000 (Fombonne, 2003; 2005). Recognizing national and state-wide increases in the prevalence of individuals identified with autism during the past decade (Tidmarsh & Volkmar, 2003), it is important that school psychologists and other educational professionals are prepared to address the needs of these students (Williams, Johnson, & Sukhodolsky, 2005). Moreover, it is clear that "school professionals play a critical role in the development, monitoring, and implementation of successful intervention programs for students with autism" (Brock, Jimerson, & Hansen, 2006, p. 88).

Autism is characterized by significant delays in communication and social interaction and the existence of repetitive and stereotyped interests (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). For over 60 years, a variety of treatments have been offered to address the neurological, behavioral, and developmental challenges associated with autism. While the cause(s) of autism remains elusive, numerous interventions have been developed in efforts to remediate symptoms of autism.

Published outcomes studies describing positive results from many of these intervention strategies can be found in the literature. However, it is imperative that school psychologists are aware of the methodological considerations related to previous studies, as well as the efficacy of particular intervention strategies. In the field of autism, treatments with little or no empirical support are sometimes promoted as all-encompassing or curative. School psychologists and other mental health professionals can help restore a focus on the empirical basis of interventions - as well as the need for individualized intervention plans. Given that the severity of behaviors (often classified as severe, moderate or mild, or low- and high-functioning) varies from child to child, intervention plans should be developed based on individualized assessment by a multi disciplinary team. Assessment, as an important first step of the process is discussed in further detail by Brock, Jimerson, and Hansen (2006).

Additionally, while professionals often select various elements from diverse intervention approaches to develop a single intervention plan, there is some evidence that such an eclectic practice may be associated with fewer gains as opposed to implementing one comprehensive evidence-based behavior analytic strategy (Howard, Sparkman, Cohen, Green, & Stanislaw, 2005). Further study is needed to determine potential usefulness of various eclectic approaches, but as it stands, caution is warranted when considering eclectic treatment. Another important consideration involves the fidelity with which an intervention approach is implemented. …

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