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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