For individuals with autism, the development of reciprocal social interactions and relationships can be conceptualized as an interrelationship among a number of relevant variables. These include the number, type, setting, and distribution of peer social interactions. That is, the techniques used to increase social competence should:
- Yield interactions at a rate similar to that found in the child’s environment
- Include cooperative components
- Take advantage of age-appropriate activities
Efforts should also be made to generalize social interactions across settings and persons. Specifically, these social behaviors should be related to the array of settings and social opportunities available to individuals with autism, which include friendships, work, leisure/family, school, and other casual social contacts.
An additional factor that should be considered is the social validity of the interactions that are fostered by various interventions. Within this context, social validity refers to procedures whose outcomes are viewed as important and beneficial to the individual with autism, as well as his or her nondisabled peers, parents, school, and community. The central concern is the social importance of the behavior change to all who are affected. In other words, do social interaction variables facilitate better friendships or relationships between individuals with autism and the important people in their environment?
Recent literature suggests that there are four distinct paths to promoting the social development of school-age children and youth with autism. One of the most intrusive procedures is direct instruction of relevant social behaviors, which relies on the overt manipulation of task-analyzed skills to promote higher frequencies of social behavior.
A second type of intervention involves antecedent prompting or teacher mediation of social interactions. The most typical form of this technique is delivery of an initiation prompt by the teacher, followed by reinforcement (e.g., attention or praise) to the child with autism for successful engagement in positive social interaction with a peer.
A third procedure is known as peer initiation. This process involves teaching socially competent peers to initiate interactions with individuals with autism. It not only structures interactions between socially competent students and those with autism, it also provides additional skill development opportunities for children and youth with autism