Early behavioral interventions for young children with autism have relied on direct training of skills through operant conditioning and modeling. These interventions have reported moderate success in improving cognitive, social and language skills, increasing peer interactions and reducing maladaptive behaviors. Yet few programs have addressed certain core features of autism, namely joint attention and symbolic play abilities. Productive language skills at age 5-6 continue to be the single best predictor of positive outcome for individuals with autism, and joint attention skills (e.g., pointing, showing, coordinate attention) are important predictors of language ability in young children with autism. Thus, the major goal of the proposed project is to facilitate improvements in joint attention skills among young children with autism. Participants will be 40 children with autism between 2 and 4 years of age attending an intensive day-treatment early childhood program, and their primary caregivers. Two difference systematic, targeted interventions will be delivered daily with randomly selected children and their caregivers. One intervention will aim to improve play skills the other on increasing joint attention skills and affective sharing in social interactions. Daily interventions will continue throughout the length of the day-treatment program, approximately 3-4 months. Several developmental assessments will be collected with children at per- intervention, during intervention and post-discharge at 6 and 12 months. Growth modeling techniques will be employed to assess intervention effects over time. It is predicted that the targeted joint attention intervention will result specifically in improvements in the initiation of joint attention, and that joint attention will continue to predict to language skills at follow-up.

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