the acquisition of verbal behaviors. Intervention research is needed that helps predict which specific intervention programs or approaches work best with which children. Such research will help families and educators to determine what goals are important and to implement specific teaching strategies designed to best meet those goals.
There is empirical support demonstrating the effectiveness of a range of approaches for enhancing communication skills of children with autism, along a continuum from behavioral to developmental, that differ in both underlying philosophy and specific teaching strategies (Dawson and Osterling, 1997; Rogers, 1996; Prizant and Wetherby, 1998). Single-subject design studies have found that naturalistic behavioral approaches are effective at leading to generalization of language gains to natural environments; generalization has been more limited for traditional discrete trial approaches (Koegel, et al., 1998; Koegel et al., 1992; McGee, et al., 1985). However, there are no group design studies directly comparing the effectiveness of two or more different approaches using randomly assigned, matched control samples (Dawson and Osterling, 1997; Sheinkopf and Siegel, 1998).
Intervention research is not yet available to predict which specific intervention approaches or strategies work best with which children. No one approach is equally effective for all children, and not all children in outcome studies have benefited to the same degree (see Dawson and Osterling, 1997; Rogers, 1996). The most positive outcomes that have been reported have been for 58 percent and 47 percent of the children (Greenspan and Wieder, 1997; McEachin et al., 1993), which means that a large minority of the children did not benefit to this extent. Educators and clinicians could provide extremely useful data by documenting the effectiveness of intervention programs on a child-by-child basis. Based on the available research with this population, progress on language and communication goals should be evident within 2 to 3 months, or different teaching approaches should be considered. In order to determine whether an individual child is benefiting from a particular educational program, measurement of that child’s progress using methods of single-subject design research are helpful.
Shonkoff et al. (1988) propose going beyond traditional measures of language skills to include “ecologically compelling child characteristics” that include more meaningful measures such as a child’s use of core communication skills in natural environments. Since learning in natural environments is the most desirable approach to working with children with autistic spectrum disorders, and spontaneous, initiated language and communicative behavior is of greater value than cue-dependent responding, spontaneity and generalization are particularly important research issues.
The application of functional communication training to the manage-