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J Autism Dev Disord. 1997 Dec;27(6):653-76.

Joint attention and early social communication: implications for research on intervention with autism.

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Psychology Annex, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida 33146-0720, USA.


Highly structured, intensive early intervention may lead to significant developmental gains for many children with autism. However, a clear understanding of early intervention effects may currently be hampered by a lack of precision in outcome measurement. To improve the precision and sensitivity of outcome assessment it may be useful to integrate research on the nature of the social disturbance of autism with research on early intervention. In this regard, it may be that measures of nonverbal social communication skills are especially important in the study of preschool intervention programs. This is because these measures appear to tap into a cardinal component of the early social disturbance of autism, and because these measures have been directly related to neurological, cognitive, and affective processes that may play a role in autism. The research and theory that support the potential utility of these types of measures for early intervention research are reviewed. Examples are provided to illustrate how these types of measures may assist in addressing current issues and hypotheses about early intervention with autism including the "recovery hypothesis," the "pivotal skill hypothesis," and the relative effectiveness of discrete trial versus incidental learning approaches to early intervention. A cybernetic model of autism is also briefly described in an effort to better understand one potential component of early psychoeducational treatment effects with children with autism.

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