Rogers et al., 1987; Fewell, 1994; Gowen et al., 1992). A recent study demonstrated that even when using a behavioral paradigm to teach symbolic play, children’s learning was enhanced when the play skills taught were those that were developmentally appropriate next steps for a child (Lifter et al., 1993). Development of more mature play skills in both independent play and social play is important for the social development and peer interaction of young children with autism, since play is the glue that holds together peer interactions in early childhood (Nadel and Peze, 1993).
Social assessment needs to be carried out in ecologically valid situations. Observing the social repertoire of a young child with autism in a setting with familiar typical peers provides information about a child’s current social repertoire that is unavailable in any other way. Assessing a child’s actual behaviors with other children—including initiations, responses, length of rounds, interest in others, proximity to others, and level of social play—provides an important baseline against which to measure the degree to which interventions are having ecologically valid effects. Observational, sociometric, rating scale, and criterion-referenced measures are available for identifying specific goals and instructional target behaviors for young children with autism (a detailed review of these assessment instruments and techniques can be found in Odom and Munson, 1996). This assessment information, when paired with information about priorities, parents’ concerns, the skills needed to be successful in the current educational settings, and the skills needed to be successful in the next educational setting, can serve as a basis for selecting functional social outcomes that practitioners could select for young children with autism.
Since social development is an extremely important aspect of education for children with autistic spectrum disorders, a child’s social behavior with both adults and peers needs to be targeted for intervention, and intervention should take into account both specific evaluation of a child’s current social skills and specific teaching goals and plans that address the social area.
The methods demonstrated to be effective are complex to deliver and require careful attention to delivery, maintenance, and generalization, as well as skill acquisition. Furthermore, as in any instructional area, objective data need to be gathered during the teaching process to assure skill acquisition, maintenance, and generalization (Krantz and McClannahan, 1998; Rogers, 2000). Studies of interventions aimed at improving social interaction for young children with autistic spectrum disorders have generally had significant methodological limitations, as indicated by comprehensive ratings of individual articles by McConnell (1999) according to