Improving Social Engagement in Young Children with Autism using Embedded Social Reinforcement
Ty Vernon, M.A.
Social deficits are one of the primary characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorders, and these impairments manifest as low levels of social engagement, decrease levels of coordinated eye contact behaviors, and a restricted affective range. Recent research on naturalistic interventions has demonstrated that using a direct response-reinforcer relationship in learning tasks increases the target child’s motivation and rate of learning and this suggests that embedding direct social reinforcement into the language opportunities might improve social behavior. Using an ABAB research design, this study examined whether the use of language opportunities with embedded social reinforcement would lead to increased levels of specific social behaviors (social engagement, dyadic orienting, and child affect) in three young children with autism in comparison to language opportunities without embedded social reinforcement. Results indicate that each child exhibited increased levels of all three social measures in the embedded social condition. These findings indicate that the use of opportunities that incorporate these strategies may be a method for targeting persistent social impairments. Theoretical and applied implications and future directions are discussed.