Communicating-Building Therapy for Autism Helps Children and Teachers

One of the core deficits found in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is initiating joint attention (IJA). IJA is a skill that is learned at a very early age and one that children use to communicate their interest or curiosity in an object or situation. Having weaknesses in IJA directly impacts the later development of further language and communication skills as ASD children mature. Currently, there are only a few studies that have examined the effects of strengthening IJA in young children with ASD. To address this gap in vitally needed literature, Kathy Lawton of the Ohio State University’s Early Childhood Education Department at the Nisonger Center led a study that evaluated how focusing on IJA through using the Joint Attention and Symbolic Play/Engagement and Regulation (JASP/ER) approach improved IJA in a sample of 16 ASD children and their public school teachers.

The main goal of the study was to assess how JASP/ER improves IJA and if public school teachers could easily administer this technique to children in a nonclinical environment. Lawton assigned half of the teacher/child groups to 6 weeks of JASP/ER, and the other half of the teacher/child groups served as controls. Lawton chose to conduct her study in a public school setting because more and more ASD children are being mainstreamed into the public education system. Additionally, teachers who serve the needs of these children are the most appropriate individuals to deliver a communication-building therapy because they are the ones with the children and tend to know their learning styles best.

After completion of JASP/ER, Lawton found that the children who participated had stronger IJA skills and were better able to engage in typical preschool activities than the children in the control group. Lawton said, “In summary, public preschool teachers successfully learned how to improve the joint attention and joint engagement of preschoolers with autism using the validated JASP/ER intervention.” Addressing the needs of all students is a priority for public schools. Children with ASD pose unique challenges that can be targeted with programs that focus on their deficits, such as IJA. Lawton believes that her study provides concrete evidence that JASP/ER is one such program.

Lawton, K., Kasari, C. (2012). Teacher-implemented joint attention intervention: Pilot randomized controlled study for preschoolers with autism. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028506

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  • Candi Lalonde

    Candi Lalonde

    June 20th, 2012 at 11:42 AM

    Our daughter was almost two years old when we started losing her to autism. It took a while to get the right diagnosis as we live in a small rural community, and I have always felt that the time lag between first noticing that there was something wrong and the time that we actually learned the diagnosis, we lost a lot of critical time where she lost much of the communication skills that she had already obtained. I never have felt like we were given the appropriate resources to get any of this back nor were we given a guide for how to navigate this diagnosis so that hse gets the best care. A lot of this we have had to do on our own so I am always so thankful when I run across articles and research such as this that gives us another direction that we can pursue. This may work for her and it may not be for her, but we will never know what is going to reach her unless we try a little but of everything. Thank you for continuing to shed some light on autism and the many varying ways that families are experiencing this with their children and their loved ones.

  • Ryanne


    June 21st, 2012 at 4:27 AM

    Is the general consensus today that mainstreaming autistic children into the normal classroom setting is the most beneficial way to provide for their ecucation? I understand that this could be a critical step for developing their social growth, but is the typical American classroom equipped to manage autistic students and give them what they need on an educational level? I hate for them to not be able to become all that they could be just for the sake of our classrooms having to become pokitically correct. I hope that I am wrong, I hope that someone can point out to me that this is the best thing, that autistic and regular functioning students alike benefit from this sort of integration. But there is a part of me that feels that mabe they would be better served in a more individualized setting where there very specific learning needs are able to be addresses and acknowledged.

  • JJ Autism

    JJ Autism

    July 5th, 2012 at 8:52 AM

    I agree with one of the other commenters that putting autistic children in separate schools that cater specifically to them may be ideal, but I think there’s a place for public schools for access and cost reasons. In smaller towns there isn’t enough density (or money) to justify a separate school. Budget cuts across the country also suggest the same thing even in cities. If we can find a way to educate autistic children within a public school environment that may provide the best solution at a reasonable cost.

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