Denver Model

In the Denver approach, social interactions with adults are taught in two ways. Initiation and maintenance are taught through the use of “sensory social exchanges.” These exchanges are naturalistic child-centered social activities in which a child makes choices, initiates pleasurable interactions with an adult, and continues them through several rounds, using whatever communicative behavior a child has available. Social responses are taught through adult-directed interactions, as are toy play skills. Imitation of peers’ and adults’ motor actions and object actions is taught through direct teaching and through prompting in typical social exchanges. Peer interactions are taught in inclusive preschool settings, in which both typical peers and children with autism are prompted to initiate object actions with each other (e.g., giving, taking, and passing objects); to imitate each other in play; and to engage in social routines like circle games, songs, and similar activities. Pre- and post-testing demonstrated significant gains in social skills after participation in the Denver program (see Rogers et al., 2000) for a detailed discussion of the Denver model).


The TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children) approach emphasizes individual functioning in a group setting, and its focus on social interaction comes particularly through communication training, participating in group activities, following instructions and routines with others, and taking turns (Watson et al., 1989). In a TEACCH classroom, the staff teaches many toy play skills, games, and object skills, which can in turn be used to facilitate social interaction (Schopler et al., 1995).

Convergence of Techniques Across Program Models

The various techniques used can be grouped into three strategies: (1) adult-directed instruction of specific components of social interactions, like eye contact, response to gestures, toy play skills, and social speech; (2) child-centered approaches in which adults follow children’s leads, stimulate and continue interactions, and in general scaffold higher level and longer rounds of interaction; and (3) peer strategies in which either adults or typical peers prompt and sustain social engagement. Each technique has demonstrated success in teaching some aspects of social interaction. Comprehensive programs that heavily emphasize social development make use of some or all of these strategies in various ways.

The choice of strategies, in addition to reflecting the theoretical orien-

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