also mixed in two systematic replications. The May Institute’s home-based program reported that 31 percent of the children receiving intervention made at least one month gain in social age per month of intervention, and 12 of 13 showed progress on another measure of adaptive behavior (Anderson et al., 1987). A more recent systematic replication compared intensive and nonintensive interventions (Smith et al., 2000). A randomly assigned group of children with autism and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) received intervention for approximately 25 hours per week for at least 1 year, while a similar group of children received 5 hours per week of parent training over a period of 3 to 9 months. Vineland results showed no significant differences between the two intervention groups. Chapter 12 presents more information on various model programs’ approaches to intervention in the area of adaptive behavior.
Unless a specific focus on generalization of skills is included in the intervention program, it is possible for children with autistic spectrum disorders to learn skills in a highly context-dependent way. That is, even though a child is capable of some particular behavior, it occurs only in highly familiar and structured contexts. Thus, results of adaptive behavior assessments have been less robust in some cases (McEachin et al., 1993; Smith et al., 2000). However, inclusion of an explicit home-based program has been reported to be associated with progress on measures of adaptive behavior (Anderson et al., 1987).
Because there is a substantial literature about teaching adaptive skills to children with developmental disabilities, one question is how often and when strategies that are effective with other populations of young children are applicable to children with autism. Skills requiring specific adaptations peculiar to autism may benefit from direct investigation (e.g., severely restricted eating patterns, toileting rituals, etc.). A major adaptation that is often required is the improved assessment and selection of reinforcers so that the child with autism will be motivated to develop new adaptive skills (Mason et al., 1989). Questions of generalization are important but need to be considered for a particular behavior and child. For example, a child might learn a very structured tooth brushing routine that is tied to a specific kind of toothbrush—which may be very helpful even if not very generalizable. However, only using a particular kind of toilet would be much more problematic.
Overall, results are encouraging regarding the potential for teaching a range of adaptive behaviors to young children with autism. However, the variability of results in this area are of crucial importance in considering each individual child’s preparation for independent functioning in