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Educating Children with Autism
marked with other children, though approaching to get needs met and often enjoying physical interactions. The passive group involved children who made few social initiations but responded positively to the approaches of others, both adults and peers. The active but odd group made initiations and responded to others: these children were interested in interactions and sought them out, but their ways of carrying out the interactions were unusual in their odd language, obsessional topics, and lack of understanding of others.
Clearly, the descriptions of these groups also connote developmental differences, and, in fact, IQ scores and language levels correlate with these groupings (Wing and Gould, 1979) as do differences in patterns of brain function (Dawson et al., 1995) and differences in context (for example, a child may be aloof with peers but passively responsive to adults [Lord and Hopkins, 1986]). However, characterizing the patterns in this way may be useful to educators and clinicians, because it may help to focus interventions and set priorities. In a related vein, differences in temperament and amount of negative affect and behavior displayed in social interactions vary considerably within autism and may well figure in what differentiates children in the aloof and passive groups (Kasari and Sigman, 1997).
Mundy and Sigman’s work on social responses demonstrated that continuing pleasurable social routines and regulating others’ behavior to get needs met were types of social interaction that were not specifically affected by autism (Mundy et al., 1987). In a related vein, Dawson and colleagues demonstrated that an adult’s imitation of a child’s behavior elicited social orienting, interest, and engagement (Dawson and Galpert, 1990). Other affectively based approaches also target this early level of social involvement (Rogers, 2000; Greenspan et al., 1997). These affectively rich, simple dyadic interactions may provide an effective starting point for social interventions for the aloof group, who do not yet demonstrate much social interest.
There are also wide-ranging differences in the levels of play skills seen in young children with autism, again related to language and IQ levels, as well as age. Among toddlers with autism, Charman and colleagues (1998) reported that functional play and other object play was not impaired relative to clinical controls. Only the production of symbolic play acts was markedly deficient. However, when older children are studied, sensorimotor play also appears to be affected, with more repetitive and immature play seen in children with autism than in children with other developmental delays matched to the same developmental level (Libby et al., 1998; Stone et al., 1990). Several investigators have reported successful interventions for stimulating symbolic play development in preschoolers with autism (Thorp et al., 1995; Goldstein et al., 1988; Stahmer, 1995; Rogers and Lewis, 1989; see also Chapters 11 and 12).