Children on the autism spectrum lack the intrinsic motivation to engage in the social world early in development, missing out on learning opportunities available to their typically developing peers who become increasingly knowledgeable about interpersonal relationships as they get older and obtain more experiences. As a result, they struggle with social relationships finding it hard to make sense of the rules of social interaction that others take for granted.
The current study aims to introduce and evaluate a new unobtrusive and enjoyable intervention model primarily designed to provide children on the autism spectrum with the motivation to engage in the social world so that they can avail from learning opportunities in their environment. The model is based on a problem solving methodology, using the art-form of drama as a pretext to motivate participants to engage in target behaviours, as opposed to instructing them to do so. The method involves using the participants’ strengths and special interests in devising fictional scenarios and posing problems that they would feel compelled to solve. Once the participants’ motivation in solving these problems is established the target behaviours are introduced in the form of elements indispensable for their resolution.
Eight children aged between 6 to 13 years, diagnosed with Asperger participated in the study. The study involved two separate interventions and employed both single case and group designs.The participants attended weekly one hour group sessions over a period of 12 weeks. Outcomes were evaluated using pre and post intervention measures. These included: first and second order theory of mind tests, executive functioning tests, standardised social responsiveness questionnaires for parents and teachers, direct in session behavioural observations, parental reports.
Collectively, the results indicated positive changes in the self esteem and social functioning of all eight participants. In particular improvements in the ability to solve theory of mind tasks were noted in the younger group; and qualitative improvements in social communication, in terms of verbal (content) and non verbal expression (body posture, vocal expression, fluency, eye contact, reduction of ritualistic mannerisms) were noted in the older group,. Reliable changes in the standardized measures of social competence were not observed.
The findings from the applications of the CBD model on a number of problems associated with Asperger syndrome suggested its potential in bringing about positive changes in all participants behaviour and self esteem. However, there are a number of limitations in the current study, such as the small size of the sample, the lack of control groups and inadequacy of impact measures that need to be addressed in future research in order to establish the methodological validity of the CBD model as evidence based practise.
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