Given the importance of symbolic play for normal development (Vygotsky, 2000; Piaget, 1962), this is an important target of early education for children with autism.

Communication is the means by which people carry out social interactions. The wide-ranging differences in communication skills that exist in young children with autism and their intervention needs are described in Chapter 5. Although it might appear that communication skills are a necessary prerequisite for building peer interactions, the large body of research in peer-mediated methods for socially engaging young children with autism suggests that no particular level of communicative ability is needed in order to work on social interventions (Lord and Hopkins, 1986). However, the form of the intervention strategy needs to be selected so that it fits with a child’s current communicative abilities. Strategies that teach peers to initiate and persist in physical engagement (Odom and Strain, 1986) are quite important for preverbal children with autism, while strategies that teach a child with autism to make verbal initiations to peers (Krantz and McClannahan, 1993) target children with some speech.


The individual differences in autism most often linked to predicting outcomes have typically included developmental variables. Past research has indicated that IQ scores and level of language skill at age 5 are very strong indicators of future performance (Lotter, 1978; Lord and Schopler, 1989; Sigman and Ruskin, 1999). Even in some intervention studies, initial developmental rate appears to be related to level of attainment after intervention (Lovaas, 1987; Sheinkopf and Siegel, 1998; Smith et al., 2000).

However, there is some evidence that autism-specific behaviors also predict outcomes. Parents’ reports of autism-specific characteristics of language and severity of repetitive and restricted behavior, gathered through interviews by or before the time their children turned 5, significantly predicted adaptive behavior scores 8 years later in a large sample of high-functioning persons with autism (Venter et al., 1992). Similarly, severity of social symptoms assessed from parental report was the strongest concurrent predictor of adult adaptive functioning in that study.

Setting Goals for Social Development

The process of education involves assessment of existing skills, defining what skills will be taught (setting goals and objectives), planning how the skills will be taught (teaching strategies), implementing the teaching plan, assessing student progress, and adapting the teaching strategy so that a student acquires the target skill (Cipani and Spooner, 1994). Most

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