Language outcome in autism: randomized comparison of joint attention and play interventions

J Consult Clin Psychol. 2008 Feb;76(1):125-37. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.76.1.125.


This study reports results of a randomized controlled trial aimed at joint attention (JA) and symbolic play (SP) in preschool children with autism, with prediction to language outcome 12 months later. Participants were 58 children (46 boys) with autism between 3 and 4 years of age. Children were randomized to a JA intervention, an SP intervention, or control group. Interventions were conducted 30 min daily for 5-6 weeks. Assessments of JA skills, SP skills, mother-child interactions, and language development were collected at 4 time points: pre- and postintervention and 6 and 12 months postintervention by independent testers. Results indicate that expressive language gains were greater for both treatment groups compared with the control group, and results could not be explained by differences in other interventions in which children participated. For children beginning treatment with the lowest language levels, the JA intervention improved language outcome significantly more than did the SP or control interventions. These findings suggest clinically significant benefits of actively treating JA and SP skills in young children with autism.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Autistic Disorder / therapy*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Language Development Disorders / therapy*
  • Language Therapy / methods*
  • Male
  • Nonverbal Communication
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Play and Playthings*
  • Speech Perception
  • Symbolism*