The purpose of this paper is to review the knowledge available from aggregated research (primarily through 2000) on the characteristics of social interactions and social relationships among young children with autism, with special attention to strategies and tactics that promote competence or improved performance in this area. In its commissioning letter for the initial version of this paper, the Committee on Educational Interventions for Children with Autism of the National Research Council requested “a critical, scholarly review of the empirical research on interventions to facilitate the social interactions of children with autism, considering adult–child interactions (where information is available) as well as child–child interactions, and including treatment of [one specific question]: What is the empirical evidence that social irregularities of children with autism are amenable to remediation?” To do this, the paper (a) reviews the extent and quality of empirical literature on social interaction for young children with autism; (b) reviews existing descriptive and experimental research that may inform us of relations between autism and characteristics that support social development, and efforts to promote improved social outcomes (including claims for effectiveness for several specific types of intervention); (c) highlights some possible directions for future research; and (d) summarizes recommendations for educational practices that can be drawn from this research.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Baer, D. M., & Wolf, M. M. (1970). The entry into natural communities of reinforcement. In R. Ulrich, T. Stachnik, & J. Mabry (Eds.), Control of human behavior: From cure to prevention (Vol. 2, (pp. 319–324): Scott, Foresman.
Baer, D. M., Wolf, M. M., & Risley, T. R. (1987). Some still-current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 20, 313–327.
Baker, M. J. (2000). Incorporating the thematic ritualistic behaviors of children with autism into games: Increasing social play interactions with siblings. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 2, 66–84.
Baker, M. J., Koegel, R. L., & Koegel, L. K. (1998). Increasing the social behavior of young children with autism using their obsessive behaviors. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 23, 300–308.
Belchic, J. K., & Harris, S. L. (1994). The use of multiple peer exemplars to enhance the generalization of play skills to the siblings of children with autism. Child & Family Behavior Therapy, 16, 1–25.
Bornstein, M. R., Bellack, A. S., & Hersen, M. (1977). Social-skills training for unassertive children: A multiple-baseline analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 10, 183–195.
Brown, W. H., Ragland, E. U., & Fox, J. J. (1988). Effects of group socialization procedures on the social interactions of preschool children. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 9, 359–376.
Coe, D. A., Matson, J. L., Craigie, C. J., & Gossen, M. A. (1991). Play skills of autistic children: Assessment and instruction. Child & Family Behavior Therapy, 13, 13–40.
Davis, C. A., Brady, M. P., Hamilton, R., & McEvoy, M. A. (1994). Effects of high-probability requests on the social interactions of young children with severe disabilities. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 27, 619–637.
Dawson, G., Osterling, J., Meltzoff, A. N., & Kuhl, P. (2000). Case study of the development of an infant with autism from birth to two years of age. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 21, 299–313.
DeKlyen, M., & Odom, S. L. (1989). Activity structure and social interactions with peers in developmentally integrated play groups. Journal of Early Intervention, 13, 342–352.
Ferrara, C., & Hill, S. D. (1980). The responsiveness of autistic children to the predictability of social and nonsocial toys. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 10, 51–57.
Garrison-Harrell, L., Kamps, D., & Kravits, T. (1997). The effects of peer networks on social-communicative behaviors for students with autism. Focus on Autism & Other Developmental Disabilities, 12, 241–254.
Goldstein, H., & Cisar, C. L. (1992). Promoting interaction during sociodramatic play: Teaching scripts to typical preschoolers and classmates with disabilities. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25, 265–280.
Goldstein, H., & Ferrell, D. R. (1987). Augmenting communicative interaction between handicapped and nonhandicapped preschool children. Journal of Speech & Hearing Disorders, 52, 200–211.
Goldstein, H., Kaczmarek, L., & Hepting, N. (1994). Communication interventions: The challenges of across-the-day implementation. In R. Gardner, III & D. M. Sainato (Eds.), Behavior analysis in education: Focus on measurably superior instruction (pp. 101–113). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Goldstein, H., Kaczmarek, L., Pennington, R., & Shafer, K. (1992). Peer-mediated intervention: Attending to, commenting on, and acknowledging the behavior of preschoolers with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25, 289–305.
Goldstein, H., & Wickstrom, S. (1986). Peer intervention effects on communicative interaction among handicapped and nonhandicapped preschoolers. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 19, 209–214.
Goldstein, H., Wickstrom, S., Hoyson, M., Jamieson, B., & Odom, S. L. (1988). Effects of sociodramatic script training on social and communicative interaction. Education & Treatment of Children, 11, 97–117.
Gonzalez-Lopez, A., & Kamps, D. M. (1997). Social skills training to increase social interactions between children with autism and their typical peers. Focus on Autism & Other Developmental Disabilities, 12, 2–14.
Gray, C. A. (1998). Social stories and comic strip conversations with students with Asperger syndrome and high-functioning autism. In E. Schopler & G. B. Mesibov (Eds.), Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism? Current issues in autism (pp. 167–198). New York, NY: Plenum Press.
Gray, C. A., & Garand, J. D. (1993). Social stories: Improving responses of students with autism with accurate social information. Focus on Autistic Behavior, 8, 1–10.
Haring, T. G., & Lovinger, L. (1989). Promoting social interaction through teaching generalized play initiation responses to preschool children with autism. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 14, 58–67.
Harrison, J. R., & Barabasz, A. F. (1991). Effects of restricted environmental stimulation therapy on the behavior of children with autism. Child Study Journal, 21, 153–166.
Hersen, M., & Barlow, D. H. (1976). Single case experimental designs: Strategies for studying behavior change. New York, NY: Pergamon.
Kamps, D. M., Barbetta, P. M., Leonard, B. R., & Delquadri, J. (1994). Classwide peer tutoring: An integration strategy to improve reading skills and promote peer interactions among students with autism and general education peers. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 27, 49–61.
Kamps, D. M., Leonard, B. R., Vernon, S., Dugan, E. P., & et al. (1992). Teaching social skills to students with autism to increase peer interactions in an integrated first-grade classroom. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25, 281–288.
Kamps, D. M., Potucek, J., Lopez, A. G., Kravits, T., & Kemmerer, K. (1997). The use of peer networks across multiple settings to improve social interaction for students with autism. Journal of Behavioral Education, 7, 335–357.
Kanner, L. (1943). Autistic disturbances of affective contact. Nervous Child, 2, 217–250.
Kennedy, C. H., & Shukla, S. (1995). Social interaction research for people with autism as a set of past, current, and emerging propositions. Behavioral Disorders, 21, 21–35.
Koegel, L. K., Camarata, S. M., Valdez-Menchaca, M., & Koegel, R. L. (1998). Setting generalization of question-asking by children with autism. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 102, 346–357.
Koegel, L. K., Koegel, R. L., Hurley, C., & Frea, W. D. (1992). Improving social skills and disruptive behavior in children with autism through self-management. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25, 341–353.
Koegel, R. L., Dyer, K., & Bell, L. K. (1987). The influence of childpreferred activities on autistic childrens social behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 20, 243–252.
Koegel, R. L., & Frea, W. D. (1993). Treatment of social behavior in autism through the modification of pivotal social skills. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 26, 369–377.
Kohler, F. W., Anthony, L. J., Steighner, S. A., & Hoyson, M. (2001). Teaching social interaction skills in the integrated preschool: An examination of naturalistic tactics. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 2, 93–103.
Kohler, F. W., Strain, P. S., Hoyson, M., Davis, L. (1995). Using a group-oriented contingency to increase social interactions between children with autism and their peers: A preliminary analysis of corollary supportive behaviors. Behavior Modification, 19, 10–32.
Kohler, F. W., Strain, P. S., Hoyson, M., & Jamieson, B. (1997). Merging naturalistic teaching and peer-based strategies to address the IEP objectives of preschoolers with autism: An examination of structural and child behavior outcomes. Focus on Autism & Other Developmental Disabilities, 12, 196–206.
Kohler, F. W., Strain, P. S., Maretsky, S., & DeCesare, L. (1990). Promoting positive and supportive interactions between preschoolers: An analysis of group-oriented contingencies. Journal of Early Intervention, 14, 327–341.
Krantz, P. J., MacDuff, M. T., & McClannahan, L. E. (1993). Programming participation in family activities for children with autism: Parents use of photographic activity schedules. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 26, 137–138.
Krantz, P. J., & McClannahan, L. E. (1998). Social interaction skills for children with autism: A script-fading procedure for beginning readers. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 31, 191–202.
Lee, S., & Odom, S. L. (1996). The relationship between stereotypic behavior and peer social interaction for children with severe disabilities. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 21, 88–95.
Lefebvre, D., & Strain, P. S. (1989). Effects of a group contingency on the frequency of social interactions among autistic and nonhandicapped preschool children: Making LRE efficacious. Journal of Early Intervention, 13, 329–341.
Lifter, K., Sulzer-Azaroff, B., Anderson, S. R., & Cowdrey, G. E. (1993). Teaching play activities to preschool children with disabilities: The importance of developmental considerations. Journal of Early Intervention, 17, 139–159.
Lord, C. (1993). Early social development in autism. In E. Schopler & M. E. Van Bourgondien (Eds.), Preschool issues in autism: Current issues in autism (pp. 61–94). New York, NY: Plenum Press.
Lord, C., & Hopkins, J. M. (1986). The social behavior of autistic children with younger and same-age nonhandicapped peers. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 16, 249–262.
Lord, C., & Magill-Evans, J. (1995). Peer interactions of autistic children and adolescents. Development & Psychopathology, 7, 611–626.
McConnell, S. R. (1987). Entrapment effects and the generalization and maintenance of social skills training for elementary school students with behavioral disorders. Behavioral Disorders, 12, 252–263.
McConnell, S. R. (1994). Social context, social validity, and program outcome in early intervention. In R. Gardner, D. M. Sainato, J. O. Cooper, T. E. Herron, W. L. Heward, J. W. Eshleman, & T. A. Grossi (Eds.), Behavior analysis in education: Focus on measurably superior instruction (pp. 75–85). Baltimore, MD: Brooks/Cole.
McConnell, S. R., Sisson, L. A., Cort, C. A., & Strain, P. S. (1991). Effects of social skills training and contingency management on reciprocal interaction of preschool children with behavioral handicaps. Journal of Special Education, 24, 473–495.
McEvoy, M. A., Nordquist, V. M., Twardosz, S., Heckaman, K. A., Wehby, J. H., & Denny, R. K. (1988). Promoting autistic childrens peer interaction in an integrated early childhood setting using affection activities. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 21, 193–200.
McEvoy, M. A., Odom, S. L., & McConnell, S. R. (1992). Peer social competence intervention for young children with disabilities. In S. L. Odom, S. R. McConnell, & M. A. McEvoy (Eds.), Social competence of young children with disabilities: Issues and strategies for intervention (pp. 113–133). Baltimore, MD: Paul Brookes.
McGee, G. G., Almeida, M. C., Sulzer-Azaroff, B., & Feldman, R. S. (1992). Promoting reciprocal interactions via peer incidental teaching. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25, 117–126.
McGee, G. G., Feldman, R. S., & Morrier, M. J. (1997). Benchmarks of social treatment for children with autism. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 27, 353–364.
Mundschenk, N. A., & Sasso, G. M. (1995). Assessing sufficient social exemplars for students with autism. Behavioral Disorders, 21, 62–78.
Myles, B. S., Simpson, R. L., Ormsbee, C. K., & Erickson, C. (1993). Integrating preschool children with autism with their normally developing peers: Research findings and best practices recommendations. Focus on Autistic Behavior, 8, 1–18.
Norris, C., & Dattilo, J. (1999). Evaluating effects of a social story intervention on a young girl with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 14, 180–186.
Odom, S. L., Chandler, L. K., Ostrosky, M., McConnell, S. R., & Reaney, S. R. (1992). Fading teacher prompts from peer-initiation interventions for young children with disabilities. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25, 307–317.
Odom, S. L., McConnell, S. R., McEvoy, M. A., Peterson, C., Ostrosky, M., Chandler, L. K., Spicuzza, R. J., Skellinger, A., Creighton, M., & Favazza, P. C. (1999). Relative effects of interventions supporting the social competence of young children with disabilities. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 19, 75–91.
Odom, S. L., & Strain, P. S. (1984). Peer-mediated approaches to promoting childrens social interaction: A review. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 54, 544–557.
Odom, S. L., & Strain, P. S. (1986). A comparison of peer-initiation and teacher-antecedent interventions for promoting reciprocal social interaction of autistic preschoolers. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 19, 59–71.
Odom, S. L., & Watts, E. (1991). Reducing teacher prompts in peermediated interventions for young children with autism. Journal of Special Education, 25, 26–43.
Pierce, K., & Schreibman, L. (1995). Increasing complex social behaviors in children with autism: Effects of peer-implemented pivotal response training. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 28, 285–295.
Pierce, K., & Schreibman, L. (1997). Multiple peer use of pivotal response training social behaviors of classmates with autism: Results from trained and untrained peers. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 30, 157–160.
Redefer, L. A., & Goodman, J. F. (1989). Pet-facilitated therapy with autistic children. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 19, 461–467.
Rogers, S. J. (1991). A psychotherapeutic approach for young children with pervasive developmental disorders. Comprehensive Mental Health Care, 1, 91–108.
Rogers, S. J., & DiLalla, D. L. (1991). A comparative study of the effects of a developmentally based instructional model on young children with autism and young children with other disorders of behavior and development. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 11, 29–47.
Rogers, S. J., Herbison, J. M., Lewis, H. C., Pantone, J., & Reis, K. (1986). An approach for enhancing the symbolic, communicative and interpersonal functioning of young children with autism or severe emotional handicaps. Journal of the Division for Early Childhood, 10, 135–149.
Sainato, D. M., & Carta, J. J. (1992). Classroom influences on the development of social competence in young children with disabilities. In S. L. Odom, S. R. McConnell, & M. A. McEvoy (Eds.), Social competence of young children with disabilities: Issues and strategies for intervention. Baltimore MD: Paul Brookes.
Sainato, D. M., Goldstein, H., & Strain, P. S. (1992). Effects of self evaluation on preschool childrens use of social interaction strategies with their classmates with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25, 127–141.
Sasso, G. M., Mundschenk, N. A., Melloy, K. J., & Casey, S. D. (1998). A comparison of the effects of organismic and setting variables on the social interaction behavior of children with developmental disabilities and autism. Focus on Autism & Other Developmental Disabilities, 13, 2–16.
Schleien, S. J., Heyne, L. A., & Berken, S. B. (1988). Integrating physical education to teach appropriate play skills to learners with autism: A pilot study. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 5, 182–192.
Schleien, S. J., Mustonen, T., & Rynders, J. E. (1995). Participation of children with autism and nondisabled peers in a cooperatively structured community art program. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 25, 397–413.
Schopler, E., Reichler, R. J., Vellis, R. G. D., & Daly, K. (1988). Childhood autism rating scale. Los Angeles, CA: Western Psychological Services.
Schopler, E., Van Bourgondien, M. E., & Bristol, M. M. (Eds.). (1993). Preschool issues in autism. New York, NY: Plenum Press.
Schreibman, L., Stahmer, A. C., & Pierce, K. L. (1996). Alternative applications of pivotal response training: Teaching symbolic play and social interaction skills. In L. K. Koegel & R. L. Koegel (Eds.), Positive behavioral support: Including people with difficult behavior in the community (pp. 353–371). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.
Shearer, D. D., Kohler, F. W., Buchan, K. A., & McCullough, K. M. (1996). Promoting independent interactions between preschoolers with autism and their nondisabled peers: An analysis of self-monitoring. Early Education & Development, 7, 205–220.
Sigman, M. (1994). What are the core deficits in autism? In S. H. Broman & J. Grafman (Eds.), Atypical cognitive deficits in developmental disorders: Implications for brain function (pp. 139–157). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Sigman, M., & Ruskin, E. (1999). Continuity and change in the social competence of children with autism, Down syndrome, and developmental delays. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 64, 1–130.
Simpson, R. (1993). Tips for practitioners: Reinforcement of social story compliance. Focus on Autistic Behavior, 8, 15–16.
Steerneman, P., & Huskens, B. (1996). The development of a social cognition training for autistic children. Psychologie in Erziehung und Unterricht, 43, 291–301.
Stokes, T. F., & Baer, D. M. (1977). An implicit technology of generalization. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 10, 349–367.
Strain, P. S. (1983a). Generalization of autistic childrens social behavior change: Effects of developmentally integrated and segregated settings. Analysis & Intervention in Developmental Disabilities, 3, 23–34.
Strain, P. S. (1983b). Identification of social skill curriculum targets for severely handicapped children in mainstream preschools. Applied Research in Mental Retardation, 4, 369–382.
Strain, P. S., & Danko, C. D. (1995). Caregivers encouragement of positive interaction between preschoolers with autism and their siblings. Journal of Emotional & Behavioral Disorders, 3, 2–12.
Strain, P. S., & Hoyson, M. (2000). The need for longitudinal, intensive social skill intervention: LEAP follow-up outcomes for children with autism. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 20, 116–122.
Strain, P. S., Kerr, M. M., & Ragland, E. U. (1979). Effects of peermediated social initiations and prompting/reinforcement procedures on the social behavior of autistic children. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 9, 41–54.
Strain, P. S., Kohler, F. W., Storey, K., & Danko, C. D. (1994). Teaching preschoolers with autism to self-monitor their social interactions: An analysis of results in home and school settings. Journal of Emotional & Behavioral Disorders, 2, 78–88.
Swaggart, B., Gagnon, E., Bock, S. J., Earles, T. L., & et al. (1995). Using social stories to teach social and behavioral skills to children with autism. Focus on Autistic Behavior, 10, 1–16.
Thorp, D. M., Stahmer, A. C., & Schreibman, L. (1995). Effects of sociodramatic play training on children with autism. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 25, 265–282.
Warren, S. F., & Reichle, J. E. (Eds.). (1992). Causes and effects in communication and language intervention: Communication and language intervention series (Vol. 1). Baltimore MD: Paul H. Brookes.
Williams, P. G., Allard, A. M., Sears, L., Dalrymple, N., & Bloom, A. S. (2001). Brief report: Case reports on naltrexone use in children with autism-Controlled observations regarding benefits and practical issues of medication management. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 31, 103–108.
Wimpory, D. C., Hobson, R., Williams, J., & Nash, S. (2000). Are infants with autism socially engaged? A study of recent retrospective parental reports. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 30, 525–536.
Wray, J. A., Yoon, J. H., Vollmer, T., & Mauk, J. (2000). Pilot study of the behavioral effects of flumazenil in two children with autism. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 30, 619–620.
Zanolli, K., & Daggett, J. (1998). The effects of reinforcement rate on the spontaneous social initiations of socially withdrawn preschoolers. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 31, 117–125.
Zanolli, K., Daggett, J., & Adams, T. (1996). Teaching preschool age autistic children to make spontaneous initiations to peers using priming. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 26, 407–422.
About this article
Cite this article
McConnell, S.R. Interventions to Facilitate Social Interaction for Young Children with Autism: Review of Available Research and Recommendations for Educational Intervention and Future Research. J Autism Dev Disord 32, 351–372 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1020537805154
- Social interaction
- early intervention