Improving social interaction between students with autism spectrum disorder and their peers in inclusive settings
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As the inclusion of students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in settings with typically developing peers has become a recommended practice in education, children with ASD are spending increasing proportions of their day in such environments. Despite inclusion in settings with typically developing peers, researchers have found limited interaction and social acceptance between children with ASD and their typically developing classmates. Given the difficulties children with ASD have with social interaction, interventions must be employed in order to increase peer interaction between students in inclusive classroom settings. Evidence suggests that incorporating the circumscribed or preferred interests of children with ASD into activities can produce large increases in social behavior without the need for utilizing an additional social skills intervention. However, these studies have not involved students with more severe symptoms of ASD and the social validity of this intervention strategy has not been rigorously assessed. Further, research involving young children has taken place outside the natural classroom context, and the generalization and maintenance of results have not been assessed. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to evaluate whether incorporating the preferred interests of young children with ASD into play activities mutually engaging to typically developing peers would result in an increase in social interaction within the natural classroom environment. A multiple baseline design across four participant and peer dyads with an embedded reversal was used to demonstrate the effects of the intervention on social interaction during play sessions with typically developing classmates. Generalization with novel peers was assessed across all conditions, and maintenance was assessed six weeks post treatment. In addition, intervention effects across additional skill domains (i.e., functional play, stereotypy) were also assessed. Results indicated that social interaction and the duration of interactive play with peers increased for all participants, and generalization to novel peers was observed. In addition, functional play increased and stereotypy decreased for one participant. Treatment gains were maintained during six-week follow- up sessions. Recommendations for practitioners working with children with ASD in inclusive settings and potential areas of future research are discussed.