An investigation into an interaction programme for children on the autism spectrum: outcomes for children, perceptions of schools and a model for training

Jones, K. & Howley, M. (2010) Journal of Research in Sp. Ed. Needs, 10 (2), p.115-123.

This study looked at a system of training in interactive skill building with children with autism.

The Background: The Learning and Autism Support team (LAST) was a team within a UK local authority Special Needs Teaching Service (SNTS). From this team an interaction specialist (Interactionist) was given the role to train a school’s TAs (trainees) in approaches based on parents-infants interactions, including Intensive Interaction. One-to-one sessions were carried out, included children engaging with the ‘Interactionist’, and engaging with trainees as the Interactionist mentored them.

Methods: 5 primary schools completed the programme over a 1-year period, with participating children identified as having autism, Asperger Syndrome and autism with learning difficulties. Views were collected from SENCos, trainees and teachers in each school. The participants’ views were gathered via a variety of methods e.g. questionnaires followed up by semi-structured interviews. Questionnaires were also given to parents of the children. All interviews were recorded, transcribed and thematically analysed.

Findings: Overall, outcomes for the children were reported as positive in terms of relationships with peers and adults, improved communication, behaviour and enjoyment of interactions. Improved Interactions with peers were described by both class teachers and trainees:

  • Interaction with children in the playground has been the most obvious immediate benefit.’ (Trainee)
  •  ‘…her teacher came down and said ‘I have had the longest conversation I have ever had with him.’ (SENCo)
  •  ‘She really has enjoyed it and her behaviour… in the classroom has improved… ’ (Trainee)
  • He can now play with two other children around home …. he is calmer for longer and can play family games.’ (Parent)

Despite some initial anxieties, most trainees viewed the programme as positive. Trainees indicated high levels of satisfaction with the programme which included modelling of one-to-one sessions with the Interactionist. The training was reported to have a direct impact upon trainees’ confidence in how to implement interaction approaches. The partnership between the trainee and the Interactionist was identified as a key component of the approach. Other key features included on-going monitoring, evaluation and recording. It also became clear that the key factors central to achieving the programme aims was the development of partnerships within a systemic approach. All of the schools indicated that they would continue the programme and were keen to train other TAs.

Discussion: whilst noting the positive outcomes, the authors suggested caution in generalising the findings due to the small scale size of this study. However, the positive outcomes demonstrated that the aims and principles of interactive approaches have relevance for children, regardless of their cognitive ability and that such approaches can be incorporated into mainstream practice. It was clear that the programme provided a clearly delineated process of professional development and support, enabling TAs to participate in a journey from the trainee to autonomous programme deliverer. Implicit within this is the view that imposing an external ‘expert’ upon school staff can have a ‘deskilling’ impact, and serve to propagate the view that effective SEN support is the remit of a minority of skilled individuals. The authors finally conclude that vital to the maintenance of an effective system are the roles, responsibilities and remits of all the key players. In the context of this study, all participants felt a sense of ownership of their respective spheres, while engaging in a partnership to ensure the success of the programme as a whole. 

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