Objectives: This study examined the (1) social engagement of preschoolers with ASD in classrooms with peers and adults, (2) ecological features of preschool classrooms that promoted social engagement, (3) relationships between social engagement and ecological features.
Methods: The Code for Active Student Participation and Engagement Revised III, an ecobehavioral observational system, was used to code data on the social engagement and classroom ecology of 68 preschoolers with ASD. Children in the study were between 3-5 years of age, enrolled in a public school-based preschool program, and had a clinical or educational diagnosis of developmental delay or ASD. The ADOS and/or SCQ were used to confirm diagnosis. Using a momentary time sampling approach, each ecological variable was coded every 10 seconds during a 30-minute observation of the classroom’s center time. The ecological variables included: activity area, child behavior, group arrangement, adult behavior, and initiator of activity. We calculated the base rate of social engagement with peers and adults across the ecological features.
Results: We present preliminary descriptive data here; however, data analysis is ongoing and will be completed prior to the IMFAR conference. First, preliminary analysis indicated preschoolers with ASD were engaged in social behaviors with adults 5.06% of the time and peers 1.89% of the time. Second, during center time, children were mostly (a) in the manipulative/blocks center (33.84%), (b) involved in small groups (34.17%) with adult support (32.29%), and (c) the adult most often initiated the activity (72.89%).The classroom environments that most supported child social engagement with adults were working 1:1 with an adult (75%), being in the story time/books activity area (75%), engaging in adult-initiated activities (100%), and participating in pre-academics (43.75%) The classroom environments that most supported engagement with peers were being in a large group that contained an adult and 3 or more peers (72.73%), engaging in snack/meal time (59.09%) or large motor (18.18%) activities, engaging in adult-initiated activities (80.95%), and not having adults direct the activity (90.91%).
Conclusions: This study provides a preliminary analysis of preschool classroom environments that promote the social engagement of children with ASD with adults and peers. Identifying features of the classroom that facilitate the social engagement of children with ASD can assist teachers in purposefully arranging those situations to promote ongoing interactions.