Date of Award

Fall 2010

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Amy V. Van Hecke

Second Advisor

John H. Grych

Third Advisor

Stephen M. Saunders

Abstract

Autism is a complex, developmental disorder affecting approximately one in 110 children in the United States. Children with autism spectrum disorders demonstrate a variety of significant deficits, including social impairment. The limitations in social ability may be in part a product of limited joint attention development at an early age. Joint attention refers to the triadic attention between an individual, another person, and an object or event and has been shown to moderate the effectiveness of certain autism interventions. The P.L.A.Y. Project, developed by Dr. Richard Solomon, aims to train parents of children with autism to be their child's own therapist by following the child's lead and utilizing naturalistic learning opportunities to enhance the reinforcing value of social interaction. This study investigated whether five months of P.L.A.Y. intervention was effective in improving behaviors germane to joint attention development in caregivers and children with autism in comparison to a community standard control group. The relationship between caregiver and child joint attention behavior change also was explored. Thirty-two caregiver-child dyads were videotaped before and after a five-month period in which 14 received P.L.A.Y. Project intervention and 18 were assigned to a community standard control group. Results indicated that children in the P.L.A.Y. group made improvements in many domains, particularly in their frequency of children initiating and leading play sequences. However, these changes did not differ significantly from those made by children in the control group. Future studies should examine longer periods of P.L.A.Y. intervention for more accurate understanding of its benefits and a more comprehensive understanding of the interactive, dependent nature of the trajectory of joint attention development.