Social Engagement of Children with ASD in Inclusive Setting: The Role of the Social Profile of Typically Developing Peers

Friday, May 16, 2014
Atrium Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
M. Zakai -Mashiach1, M. Al-Yagon2 and E. Dromi3, (1)School of Education, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel, (2)Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv, Israel, (3)Constantiner School of Education, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel
Background: The present study focused on typically developing (TD) children's social interest in a child with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who was included in their preschool class. Although the literature presents rich evidence on the importance of inclusion for children with ASD, only few studies have been conducted to date in terms of the factors that facilitate social interest of the TD children toward the included child with ASD. 

Objectives: The main goal was to examine which social-emotional characteristics of the TD children influence their social interest toward the child with ASD. A secondary goal was to identify which factors in the inclusive environment may facilitate this natural interest, such as the attitudes of the preschool teacher and the functional profile of the child with ASD.

Methods: Sixteen preschool teachers from sixteen different preschool classes in Israel which included a child with ASD participated in this study. One hundred ninety-three TD preschoolers participated in the study. Data was collected from a questionnaire administered to the teachers, as well as from tasks conducted with the TD children. The Profile of Peer Relations (Walker, 2005) was administered in order to collect information on the social profile of the TD children. A questionnaire for the teachers about inclusion (My Thinking About Inclusion; Stoiber et al., 1998) was used to test beliefs and attitudes concerning inclusion. The Childhood Autism Scale (CARS; Schopler et al., 1988) was used to assess the presence and severity of symptoms of the child with ASD. 

Results: Findings indicated the following: the pro-social behaviors of the TD children contributed the most to spontaneous social interest toward the ASD child; the teacher's degree of preparation to teach in inclusive classroom setting had an impact on the social interest of the TD children toward the ASD child; and finally, the abilities of the ASD child, especially non-verbal communication, social profile and sensitivity to sound and touch also explained the degree of social interest.   

Conclusions: Findings from this study suggest the role of several factors that contributed to the social engagement of children with ASD in inclusive preschool settings. Thus, social-behavioral features of TD children and the degree of preparation of the teacher to teach in inclusive setting contributed to the opportunities to encourage social interaction among children with ASD and their TD peers. Therefore, it is important to support social engagement not only by means of specific intervention programs that are targeted towards increasing social skills in the included children with ASD, but also by fostering aspects in the natural educational environments that can increase the likelihood of social interaction between TD and children with ASD. By fostering a better understanding of inclusion among teachers and caregivers in general, and promoting social interaction between unequal partners in particular, the challenge of social inclusion can be more easily attainable.