Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 45, Issue 3, pp 830–845 | Cite as

Integrated Play Groups: Promoting Symbolic Play and Social Engagement with Typical Peers in Children with ASD Across Settings

  • Pamela WolfbergEmail author
  • Mila DeWitt
  • Gregory S. Young
  • Thanh Nguyen
Original Paper


Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) face pervasive challenges in symbolic and social play development. The Integrated Play Groups (IPG) model provides intensive guidance for children with ASD to participate with typical peers in mutually engaging experiences in natural settings. This study examined the effects of a 12-week IPG intervention on the symbolic and social play of 48 children with ASD using a repeated measures design. The findings revealed significant gains in symbolic and social play that generalized to unsupported play with unfamiliar peers. Consistent with prior studies, the outcomes provide robust and compelling evidence that further validate the efficacy of the IPG model. Theoretical and practical implications for maximizing children’s developmental potential and social inclusion in play are discussed.


Play Social Symbolic Peers Inclusion Sociocultural 



We wish to express our deep appreciation to Autism Speaks for the funding of our grant and the many people involved in our research project. We are especially indebted to the children and families, IPG guides, IPG assistants and partner school sites for their generosity and support. We extend special thanks to Kristen Bottema-Beutel for her research support and thoughtful critique of this study. We also thank our research assistants Cristina Blanco, Cornelia Bruckner, Jessica Dow, Jenny Hernandez, Elizabeth Hooper, Sophia Lo, Katrina Martin, Sarah Mast, Heather McCracken, Sunaina Nedungadi, Luke Remy, Nevin Smith and the UC, Berkeley student URAP teams. We are grateful to members of our steering committee, including the late Adriana Loes Schuler whose enduring spirit lives on in the IPG model.

Ethical standard

This study was approved by the Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects, Internal Review Board of the lead university, and therefore has been performed in accordance with the ethical standards laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments. Informed written consent was obtained from a parent/legal guardian for all participants, and verbal assent was obtained for participants 9–10 years of age prior to inclusion in the study. Details that might disclose the identity of the subjects under study have been omitted.

Conflict of interest

The authors do not have a financial relationship with Autism Speaks, the organization that sponsored the research. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pamela Wolfberg
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mila DeWitt
    • 2
  • Gregory S. Young
    • 3
  • Thanh Nguyen
    • 4
  1. 1.Autism Spectrum Studies, Department of Special Education and Communication DisordersSan Francisco State UniversitySan FranciscoUSA
  2. 2.Trumpet Behavioral HealthPleasantonUSA
  3. 3.MIND Institute, UC Davis Medical CenterUniversity of CaliforniaSacramentoUSA
  4. 4.Clinical Psychology (PhD) ProgramUniversity of MassachusettsBostonUSA

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