A social competence intervention program for children with high functioning autism and Asperger's syndrome: a qualitative study

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Portman, Elizabeth Coates

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The key features of Asperger’s Disorder (AS), and high functioning autism (HFA) include marked and sustained impairment in social interactions. Specifically, such impairment includes deficits in reciprocal social interchanges as well as in the ability to use nonverbal behaviors to regulate social communication. For young children with these types of interpersonal deficits, engaging in play and other social experiences becomes difficult or impossible. The treatment of these social skills deficits is a challenging area in meeting the needs of people with AS and HFA. In order to address the social development needs of young children with AS and HFA, a multi-session, small group program was developed. Intervention sessions took place on a twice weekly basis over the course of eight weeks. The program was based on the assumption that underlying these social difficulties are perceptual or interpretive problems that are neurologically based. Because young children socialize primarily through play, a hands-on interactive play component was incorporated into the program. Additionally, parent participation was an important aspect of the intervention. The intervention was implemented with five children and their primary caretakers, and its effectiveness in changing child social interactions was evaluated through a case study design. Data were collected through parent and child interviews, child observations, weekly group leader session notes, and weekly parent feedback forms. Qualitative analyses of the data resulted in a unifying explanation of the key changes in social interactions that took place through the course of the intervention. Children in this program demonstrated development both emotionally and behaviorally. This development was the result of a dynamic process of communication and teaching on many levels that persisted throughout the course of the intervention program. Findings suggest that, despite their rigid interests and behavior patterns, the social limitations these children improved when provided with the necessary environmental resources.