Review of: Promoting Child-Initiated Social Communication in Children with Autism: Son-Rise Program Intervention Effects

This newsletter highlights a study recently conducted by Houghton and his colleagues on the Son-Rise Program. Although the Son-Rise Program was developed in the 1970s, this is the first experimental study to date to evaluate its effectiveness. We hope you find this summary informative.

Sharon A. Reeve, PhD, BCBA-D, SIAT Research Corner Coordinator

Review of: Promoting Child-Initiated Social Communication in Children with Autism: Son-Rise Program Intervention Effects

Houghton, K., Schuchard, J., Lewis, C., & Thompson, C.K. (2013). Promoting child initiated social-communication in children with autism: Son-rise program intervention effects. Journal of Communication Disorders, 46, 495-506.

Reviewed by: Kathleen Moran, Caldwell College

Why research this topic?

A major focus in the treatment of autism is to increase social interactions such as, initiating play or communication. Developmental approaches, which posit that children learn through back-and-forth exchanges with responsive adults, are popular interventions for social interaction deficits. The “Floortime” (i.e., Greenspan) model is the best known of these approaches. Another method, known as the Son-Rise Program (SRP), attempts to improve spontaneous, child-initiated interactions. This treatment includes an adult engaging in parallel play until the child initiates interaction and then praising and “joining” the child. Although SRP was developed in the 1970s, this is the first experimental study to date to evaluate its effectiveness.

What did the researchers do? 

Twelve children with autism participated. Participants were separated into two groups; one received treatment and the other did not. Data were collected on each child’s social and communicative behavior, including the number of head orientations, gestures, and “verbalizations” towards the adult to initiate interaction, as well as the duration of social interaction. Initially, each child participated in a baseline phase in which the experimenter made no attempt to interact. If a child initiated an interaction, the experimenter responded but did not provide any praise or prompt further interactions. Following baseline, one group received 40 hours of SRP intervention over a 5-day period. During intervention, the experimenter engaged in parallel play until the child initiated an interaction. Once the child initiated by using a communicative act such as a head orientation, gesture, or verbalization, the examiner responded immediately by providing praise, joined the child, and prompted for more interaction. After the intervention phase, each child returned to the baseline phase.

What did the researchers find?

During baseline there was no difference between the groups. At follow-up, the children who received treatment showed an increase in the number and length of spontaneous initiations of interactions. Verbal behavior also increased, but not significantly. In contrast, children who did not receive treatment showed little change.

What are the strengths and limitations of the study? What do the results mean?

This study was the first to use data to assess the effectiveness of the SRP intervention. Although results suggest that the SRP intervention increased social interaction behaviors and possibly verbalizations, no conclusions about SRP can be drawn because of major limitations in the study design. First, children were not randomly assigned to treatment and no-treatment groups. Second, it was difficult to determine how participants were selected from the pool of families that went to the SRP training. Third, there was no test of whether gains generalized to other settings or maintained over time. Fourth, the investigators did not examine whether SRP therapists administered this intervention as intended. To begin providing credible data on effectiveness, future studies should address these methodological limitations and replicate the findings with additional children.

Cite this!

Moran, K. (2014). Review of: Promoting Child-Initiated Social Communication in Children with Autism: Son-Rise Program Intervention Effect. Science in Autism Treatment, 11(1), pp. 23-24.

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