Effectiveness of a Group Theraplay Intervention for Improving the Socio-Emotional Functioning of Children with Developmental Disabilities
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Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other developmental disabilities often have difficulties in social interactions that permeate various aspects of their academic and socio-emotional development. Without appropriate intervention, these difficulties can result in peer rejection and social isolation, in turn decreasing participation in experiences that foster social growth. Although social skill training interventions are often the first line of intervention for these difficulties, evidence for their effectiveness is limited, partly due to limited consideration of individual differences in skill deficits and the impact of developmental processes on those deficits. Developmental interventions shift attention away from isolated behaviors and toward understanding and fostering developmental processes that facilitate the emergence of complex social behaviors. The current study involved analysis of de-identified progress monitoring data to examine the effectiveness of Group Theraplay, a developmental intervention, for improving the socio-emotional functioning of children with autism and other developmental disabilities. The database comprised data from children in self-contained special education classrooms across various schools in Western New York. Results suggested treatment-related improvements in measures of socio-emotional competence, global functioning, and pro-social behaviors. Further, observational measures suggested that the enjoyment of and participation in social interactions during Theraplay sessions increased as the intervention progressed. No evidence for generalization of learned behaviors outside the Theraplay sessions was found. Additional findings include construct validity evidence for a measure of global functioning (DD-CGAS) and a measure of prosocial behaviors (Theraplay Interaction Assessment, TIA), and evidence of internal validity for the TIA. Study limitations and future directions for research are discussed.