Psychology and Child Development Department
BS in Child Development
The number of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder is rapidly increasing (“Autism Speaks,” 2010). Simultaneously, the pool of knowledge on what this disorder entails and how best to treat it is also growing. The present report is designed to investigate a means of improving social behaviors among preschoolers with autism in inclusive environments. Providing a mainstream experience for children with special needs is a fairly new process in the evolution of the education system, and includes access to typical peers and inclusion in their daily activities (Kids Together, Inc., 2011).
The unique qualities exhibited by children with autism are readily identified by age 3, just at the age that most children begin preschool. According to the DSM-V, Autism is a pervasive, spectrum disorder, meaning it affects multiple basic functions and covers a variety of abilities. Comparison of preschoolers with autism to their typically developing peers reveals deficits in social interaction, language abilities, and imaginative play (Boutot, 2005). Early diagnosis and treatment promotes higher levels of functioning, signifying the importance of addressing deficits as early as possible, including the preschool years (“Autism Speaks,” 2010)
Previous research identifies that children with autism face many challenges in engaging in appropriate social behaviors with their typically developing peers (Boutot, 2005; Koegel, Koegel, Frea, & Fredeen, 2001). This body of work recognizes social improvements as pivotal to success in other aspects of education. Various means of interventions attempt to target the social behaviors in inclusive classrooms, and include: material selection in the environment (Anson, Todd, & Casarretto, 2008; Morrier, McGee, & Daly, 2009; Schilling & Schwartz, 2009), instructor initiated interventions (McGrath, Bosch, Sullivan, & Fuqua, 2003; Odom, Hoyson, Jamieson, & Strain, 1985), and training peer interactions (Kohler, Strain, Hoyson, & Jamieson, 1997; Garfinkle & Schwartz, 2002). The results of studies investigating the effectiveness of these techniques demonstrate improvements in social skills of both children with autism and typically developing peers, as well as lower levels of undesirable or inappropriate behaviors among the children with diagnoses.
This senior project explores the viability of combining these promising interventions in a preschool setting. In particular, a program is outlined that will last ten weeks, and in that time will implement various forms of interventions to improve social behaviors among preschoolers in an inclusive site, as well as, gauging changes in the behavior and interactions of individuals within the group. The proposed intervention, Kreative Kids Preschool Art Program and Social Group, was developed from adapting the procedures from previous research, as well as compiling the author’s knowledge of behavior training. The program is described in detail, from preparation to implementation. In addition to developing this program, an outline for research plans that may potentially reveal the influences of the program on social behaviors and interactions is provided. Research will focus on changes in frequency of pro- or anti- social behaviors within the daily schedule, as well as the individuals involved in social interactions throughout the day. Results will either indicate that the designed intervention is correlated with improved social skills, or the combination of interventions detracts from the effectiveness of each individual intervention. Further direction for research depends on the results of the study, but may include investigating effects on a longer timeline or reducing the number of interventions performed simultaneously. This program is designed to further the progress towards including and improving the experiences of preschoolers with autism.