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The areas of an early childhood program should address the core features and characteristics of ASD. The goals and objectives to address each area should be highly individualized for each child's
level as well as his learning strengths and weaknesses. Knowledge of typical child development is also crucial in providing a guideline for intervention in the areas. The following areas have been identified as essential to meeting the needs of young children with ASD.
A common feature of ASD is how difficult the child finds it to interpret and prioritize the various external and internal
continually bombarding him (for example, a fly buzzing around the room; internal
thoughts such as recitation of math facts). As a result, many of these children can exhibit the following:
Variable attending skills: The child demonstrates attending skills that vary significantly depending upon his interests. For example he attends well to what is interesting or "makes sense", such as the computer, videos, puzzles, etc., but attends poorly to large group listening activities.
Difficulty in shifting attention from one stimulus to another. For example, if the child is engaged in a visual perceptual task of putting a puzzle together, he may not be able to shift his attention to focus on a verbal instruction given by the teacher.
Difficulty attending in situations where there are multiple stimuli. Because the child with ASD has significant difficulty shifting attention, as well as prioritizing stimuli, attending to the "essential information" is challenging. For example, if the child's focused attention is on sitting appropriately in a small group setting, he may not be able to focus on the information being taught by the teacher.
Imitation is a critical developmental skill for children with ASD, as learning throughout life relies the ability to imitate; the ability to imitate impacts learning in all areas, including social skills and communication. Various imitation skills must be specifically and directly taught to the child with
. These include:
Imitating fine and gross motor movements
Imitating actions with objects
Imitating designs with manipulatives
Imitating sounds and words
Communication (Understanding and Use)
Children with ASD exhibit significant communication difficulties in their abilities to comprehend and express language appropriately. Many children, at the early intervention level, have not learned the "power" of communicationthat is, the cause and effect of communication. They have not developed the "intent" to communicate. Some children will try to obtain the desired item themselves and not seek out others for assistance. Children with ASD have difficulty understanding that communication is an intentional exchange of information between two or more people. Therefore in order to teach this intent to communicate at this early intervention level, many children with ASD must be "tempted" to communicate by using their highly desired objects and actions.
Play Skills with Toys
Children with ASD exhibit marked difficulty engaging in appropriate play skills with toys can include the following:
No interaction: The child shows no interest in touching or holding toys.
Manipulative/explorative play: The child holds and gazes at toys; mouths, waves, shakes, or bangs toys; stacks blocks or bangs them together; lines up objects.
Functional play: The child puts teacup to mouth; puts brush to hair; connects train sections and pushes train; arranges pieces of furniture in dollhouse; constructs a building with blocks.
Symbolic/pretend play: The child pretends to do something or to be someone else with an intent that is representational, including role-playing (for example, child moves hand to mouth, signifying drinking from teacup; makes a puppet talk; uses a toy person or doll to represent self; uses a block as a car, accompanied by engine sounds).
Appropriate play skills with toys and play with peers will need to be specifically and directly taught to children with ASD.
Social Play/Social Relations
A core feature of ASD is difficulty understanding and engaging in social interactions. At the early intervention level, children with ASD typically exhibit significant difficulty engaging in social play with peers. Social play skills with peers can range from the following:
Isolation: The child appears to be unaware of, or oblivious of others. He may occupy himself by watching anything of momentary interest.
Orientation: The child has an awareness of the other children, as evidenced by looking at them or at their play materials or activities. However the child does not enter into play.
Parallel/proximity play: The child plays independently beside, rather than engaging with, the other children. There is simultaneous use of the same play space or materials as peers.
Common focus: The child engages in activities directly involving one or more peers, including informal turn-taking; giving and receiving assistance and directives, and active sharing of materials. There is a common focus or attention on the play.
Typically developing peer models are essential to facilitate developmentally appropriate social behaviour for children with ASD.