This study aimed to determine if an intervention in which children with ASD diagnoses were engaged in structured activity sessions related to their personal interests with typically developing peers and provided instructions and modeling from a facilitator for those specific activities would increase those children interactions with their typically developing peers.
The participants were four children with a diagnosis of ASD ranging from mild to severe (scores ranging from 30.5 to 50 at the Childhood Autism Rating Scale), and four peers developing typically. All the peers were females while there were both males and a female in the group of children with ASD. The eight children were between 46 and 62 months of age. All children were selected based on the teacher and support staff recommendations. They all used primarily the English language both at home and at school.
- What do they do:
The study was conducted in an inclusive preschool classroom for both students with disabilities and typically developing peers. Each participant was paired with a typically developing student of a similar age. The dyads all engaged in both baseline sessions and intervention sessions. The baseline session consisted of 10 minutes of free play in the play area during which the students were allowed to use any toy or items available in the classroom.
The intervention sessions were organized around the participants’ interests and preferences. The researchers selected the participants’ interest that was most likely to be appealing for the typically developing peer with whom they were paired. During those sessions, the facilitator introduced an activity to the dyad and explained to the children that they were to engage in that specific activity during the session. The facilitator provided a demonstration of the activity to the children, modeled it and gave verbal explanation of the functioning for about 2 to 3 minutes. He or she would only intervene to answer questions asked by the children or to remind the participants and peers that they had to engage in that specific activity, if they demonstrated that they wanted to do something during the session. On the rare cases that problem behaviors occurred, the facilitator intervened in order to remind the children of the expected behavior in the classroom. During both baseline and intervention sessions, the children did not receive social skill instructions. The facilitator did not provide any prompt or reinforcement for their behaviors.
- How are results collected:
The results were collected by special-education graduate students who were trained to collect direct observation data. The observers would note the frequency of initiations and responses by the participants, and would graph those data afterwards. As the session were recorded by video, the duration of the interactions was calculated by viewing those after the sessions.
What do the results say
The results indicate that the intervention is correlated with an increase in interactions with typically developing peers. This correlation also applies to the intervention generalization sessions, during which the participants had to participate in the intervention sessions with novel peers and in subsequent observations 6 weeks after the study was concluded. The changes in behavior that the children demonstrated, in the intervention sessions, were assessed by preservice teachers and considered to be socially significant. In the intervention sessions, it was observed that 3 of the participants initiated social interactions with their typically developing peers at a comparable frequency to the latter.
What are the conclusions
The authors concluded that the intervention package increases social interactions between children with mild to severe ASD diagnoses and typically developing peers. This increase is also generalized to novel peers and maintained after the study.
The authors suggest that for children with more pronounced social and communication deficits or delays, different strategies could be implemented to the intervention, in order to lead to greater increases in social interactions. For instance, the picture exchange communication system or direct peer trainings are both approaches that they mention could be investigated, in conjunction with the intervention package, could be investigated in future research. In addition, they specify that it would be important to incorporate activities that are not directly related to the participants’ interest in order to assess the generalization of the results to different contexts. The authors specify that they only assessed the quantity of interactions and not the quality, which is a limit of this study.
As the results apply to children with different diagnosis of ASD, this interventions could be efficient with children with various functioning and characteristics. In addition, the intervention is easy to implement in natural environment. Therefore, it would be accessible for teachers and other educators, whether or not they are trained to work with children who are diagnosed with ASD.