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Fostering a Social Child with Autism: A Moment-By-Moment Sequential Analysis of an Early Social Engagement Intervention

Abstract

© 2014, Springer Science+Business Media New York. Young children with autism often experience limited social motivation and responsiveness that restricts establishment of crucial social momentum. These characteristics can lead to decreased opportunities for parental engagement and the social learning associated with these moments. Early social interventions that capitalize on pre-existing interests may be able to re-establish this developmentally critical feedback loop, in which both child and parent social behaviors simultaneously increase and influence one another. This investigation examined the moment-by-moment, micro-transactional relationship between parent and child social behavior gains observed in an early intervention study. Time-window sequential analyses revealed the presence of clinically and statistically significant sequential associations between parent and child social behaviors during an embedded social interaction intervention, but not in a comparable motivational intervention that utilized highly preferred toys and objects. Specifically, the onset of parent eye contact, directed positive affect, or offer of a reinforcing incentive predicted the immediate occurrence of child eye contact and positive affect in the experimental social intervention condition. Additionally, child verbal initiations, positive affect, and eye contact immediately predicted the onset of parent positive affect during this social intervention paradigm. Theoretical implications for the social developmental trajectory of autism are discussed.

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