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Advancing Social-Communication and Play (ASAP)

ASAP stands for Advancing Social-Communication and Play: An Intervention Program for Autistic Preschoolers. This intervention program is designed to help teachers, therapists and others foster the development of important communication and play skills in young autistic children, including joint attention and symbolic play skills. ASAP is intended to supplement other more comprehensive intervention programs for young autistic children. Research supports the importance of specific efforts to improve joint attention and symbolic play skills in preschool-aged autistic children to help these children achieve their full potential as they get older.

Why is the ASAP Intervention Important for Autistic Preschoolers?

Autistic children are diagnosed because of challenges with social and communication interactions, as well as a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors and to have a limited range of interests. Almost all autistic preschool-aged children have difficulty with joint attention and symbolic play.

When researchers have looked at what preschool skills are most predictive of how an autistic person will function when s/he is older, language skills are among the most important abilities. Children who have acquired the ability to use spoken language in order to communicate with others by the end of preschool face fewer academic challenges than children who are still nonverbal. Further, research tells us that if we teach joint attention and symbolic play skills to autistic children, they will develop better language and communication abilities. Alternatively, if we do not specifically teach joint attention and symbolic play skills, they will be unlikely to learn the skills, and their language development will not progress as well. So, joint attention and symbolic play are key skills that should be addressed for all autistic preschool-aged children.

Of course, preschool-aged autistic children generally have many needs, and a comprehensive intervention program that helps them develop in many areas is essential. The ASAP intervention is intended for use in preschool programs that are providing comprehensive educational services for autistic children.

What is Joint Attention?

The term “joint attention” describes what happens when two people pay attention to the same thing on purpose. Imagine, for example, that a teacher points to a picture book and says to a child, “Look at this book.” The child looks where the teacher is pointing, and they look at the book together. In this situation, the teacher and the child have engaged in joint attention. Children can also initiate joint attention. Imagine that you are out with your child and your child sees a dog. Your child might look up at you to see whether you also see the dog, and then look back at the dog again. This would also be joint attention – sharing attention to the dog on purpose.

What is Symbolic Play?

Symbolic play involves pretending or using imagination. At a simple level, when a toddler pretends to stir in a bowl that is actually empty, she is pretending that there is something in the bowl. Or when a preschooler picks up a cardboard tube and swings it in front of him like a sword, he is pretending that the cardboard tube is something different from what it actually is. A kindergartner who swoops around pretending to be a superhero defeating the bad guys is also showing symbolic play skills.

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Illustration of goal JA1a

JA1a. Child responds to another person giving objects just to share interest in the objects.

This occurs when another person gives an object to the child for the purpose of sharing interest in the object, and s/he willingly accepts the object, looks at the other person, and looks at the object. Responding to another person giving an object to share that object shows that the child is beginning to understand that s/he can share interest with another person about an object through eye contact and gazing at the object.

Domain: Social Communication

Category: Joint Attention

Context: Focused/1:1

Illustration of Goal JA2a

JA2a. Child responds to another person showing objects just to share interest in the objects.

This occurs when another person shows an object to the child for the purpose of sharing interest in the object, and the child looks at the object and the other person. Responding to another person showing an object to share the object shows that the child is furthering his/her understanding of sharing interest with others about objects.

Domain: Social Communication

Category: Joint Attention

Context: Focused/1:1