By Argyropoulou, Z. & Papoudi, D. (2012), European Journal of Special Needs Education, 27 (1), 99-114.
This study examined social interactions during play between a young boy with autism and a typically developing girl, before and after the boy was trained by his teacher through intensive interaction. The study was conducted in a preschool inclusive class in Athens, with a 6-year old autistic boy (Philippe). A highly empathic girl, Anna, was selected as Philippe’s play partner. A range of materials and toys were made available during the sessions to facilitate verbal and non-verbal communication.
The 2 month study used an ABA single case design, with data recorded in 3 different phases, baseline (A1), post-training (B) and follow-up (A2). Each phase included 5 sessions of 10-15 minutes over 2 weeks, each session being videotaped and the first author keeping field notes. The children were told that they were ‘playing to have fun’.
Measurement: The children’s social behaviours were categorised as initiations and responses; for each initiation, the other child’s response, positive or negative, were recorded Initiations included (a) waiving to or holding the other child’s hand; (b) drawing attention to an object or activity; (c) verbal communication; (d) body contact; and (e) giving a toy or initiating a game.
The ‘responses’ were coded as ‘positive’ if a child answered a question, responded positively or imitated the actions of the other child. ‘Negative’ responses included any avoidance or aggressiveness.
Results: Before the research Philippe and Anna were not playing together. After the study, Anna and other peers were initiating contact with Philippe and tried to include him in their games. Philippe responded positively when with the children and seemed happy. Sometimes Philippe also made initiations to Anna. During Philippe’s training a detailed sessional diary evidenced improvements in his social and emotional engagement, eye contact, verbalisations, body orientation and contact, and smile from the first session onwards.
Conclusion: This study showed that ‘Intensive Interaction’ helped a child with autism to increase his social engagement. His initiations increased in the post training phase but returned to the initial level in the follow up phase. However, his increased levels of positive responses to the peer’s initiations remained at a high level post training.
Overall, the results of this study accord with the findings of previous research. Firstly, children with autism are more likely to engage with someone if that person provides active input. Secondly, such input is more effective when it ‘scaffolds’ the child with a disability through Intensive Interaction and interactive play. Lastly, 1-to-1 peer to target child ratio increases the likelihood of social initiations and interactions between a child with autism and his peer. Naturally, a single case study has inherent problems of generalizability. Further research is therefore needed to determine how such ‘Intensive Interaction’ training can be applied in order to help the social interaction between children with communication difficulties and their peers in mainstream settings.