Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


34th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2008

Event Details

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Symposium #366
CE Offered: BACB
Social Communication and Social Cognition in the Developing Child with Autism: Observations and Interventions
Monday, May 26, 2008
10:30 AM–11:50 AM
Continental A
Area: AUT/EDC; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Christopher Jones (University of Puget Sound)
Discussant: Ilene S. Schwartz (University of Washington)
CE Instructor: Christopher Jones, Ph.D.

Social communication and social cognition consists of a multitude of skills and behaviors that are radically affected by the triad of deficits characteristically seen in children with autism. Although early, pervasive deficits in social communication and cognition skills are considered hallmark features of autism, less is known about how these deficits manifest themselves in children who have participated in and benefited from effective intervention. This data-based symposium will take an empirical look at social communication and social cognition in children with autism. In Dr. Jones presentation, he discusses how his systematic observations of naturally occurring family interactions revealed joint attention deficits not previously measured in 20 high functioning children with autism who received previous intensive intervention. Dr. Leon-Guerrero will follow with her examination of the effectiveness of a Skillstreaming Early Childhood curriculum in friendship groups on facilitating the development of developmentally appropriate social skills in four preschool children with autism. Penny Williams completes the presentations with her examination of teaching a middle school student with autism to self monitor appropriate on task behavior and appropriate behavior during work tasks. Taken together, these presentations form a compelling example of how much we have yet to discover about the social communication and social cognitive deficits of children with autism and how to remediate them.

Why "Look at that!” Does Not Always Work as a Measure of Joint Attention for Children with Autism.
CHRISTOPHER JONES (University of Puget Sound), Ilene S. Schwartz (University of Washington)
Abstract: Social communication in children consists of a diverse set of behaviors and skills that are radically affected by the triad of deficits characteristically seen in autism. Although early, pervasive deficits in social communication skills are considered hallmark features, less is known about how these deficits manifest themselves in children with autism who have participated in and benefited from effective early intervention. In this systematic observation, we examined the social communicative interactions between 20 children with autism and their families. We found that children with autism initiated fewer bids for interactions, commented less often, continued ongoing interactions through fewer conversational turns, and responded less often to family member bids for communication. Results are interpreted with respect to how these communication patterns may be indicative of joint attention deficits not previously examined in older, high functioning children with autism. Strategies for social communication interventions within the family and other natural contexts are discussed and implications for future research are provided.
“Friendship Group”: A Classroom Approach to Teaching Social Skills to Young Children with Autism.
RINAMARIE S. LEON-GUERRERO (University of Washington)
Abstract: Social skills are critical skills for young children with autism to develop as they enter school, form friendships and function in the social world. These critical skills are also very difficult skills to learn. Specifically, the complexity of seemingly simple skills and the rules of social interactions present many challenges for young children with autism. In order to target social skills for instruction, this study explored the use of the commercially available Skillstreaming Early Childhood curriculum for teaching social skills. In this study, four preschoolers with autism received explicit instruction on the social skills of greeting and sharing. Each preschooler received instruction in the context of small groups called “friendship groups.” Friendship groups took place in the preschool classroom and included two typically developing peers. The steps of instruction were presentation of the skill using a visual, teacher model with puppets, and the student role play with teacher feedback. Data were collected on demonstration of the skill in friendship group and choice time. Findings of this study strongly suggest that children with autism could acquire critical social skills in the context of their classrooms when explicit instruction and visuals were utilized.
ASD and Self Management of Executive Function Skills.
PENNY LYNN WILLIAMS (University of Washington)
Abstract: Executive function deficits are reported in many children with ASD. Such deficits contribute to difficulties in maintaining attention, shifting attention, and increasing a variety of independent skills. Many students with ASD, from preschool through high school, are supported by para-educators. These para-educators often function as the executive manager for the student, thereby increasing prompt dependency and overlooking the need to target pivotal self management skills. In this study a middle school student with ASD was taught to self manage appropriate behaviors during work tasks (e.g. safe hands, calm body, etc.) as well as self manage work engagement. Inappropriate behaviors decreased from an average of 85 incidents during a typical 6-hour school day to less than one per week. Independent work engagement increased from a baseline of 40 minutes and 20+ adult prompts to complete 2 pages of simple maintenance tasks (e.g. simple addition, subtraction, etc.) to less than 7 minutes and 1 or fewer adult prompts to complete the same amount of work. Strategies for teaching and maintaining self-management skills are discussed.



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