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An Approach For Enhancing The Symbolic, Communicative, And Interpersonal Functioning Of Young Children With Autism Or Severe Emotional Handicaps

Sally J. Rogers, Jean M. Herbison, Hal C. Lewis, Jeanne Pantone, Kathy Reis

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An intervention approach emphasizing development of symbolic thought, communication, and interpersonal relationships was Implemented with 26 children (ages 2 through 6) who had infantile autism, pervasive developmental disorder, or severe emotional handicaps. The main intervention strategy was the use of play in all its interpersonal, cognitive, and structural variety, imbedded in a reactive language environment. Over a six- to eight-month intervention period, the children demonstrated significant changes in several targeted developmental areas, including cognition, perceptual/fine motor, social/ emotional, and language skills. The cognitive complexity of their play skills increased significantly in areas of symbolic complexity, symbolic agent, and symbolic substitutions. Additionally, significant improvement in the communicative and interpersonal characteristics of their play was found. These changes support the efficacy of this approach with young autistic and severely emotionally handicapped children when the children's needs for high levels of structure, intensity, and consistency are met.