Scheduling Socialization

A Student Study Takes Aim at Improving Peer Interaction for Preschoolers with Autism

A study conducted at the UW Haring Center is examining the use of activity schedules as a strategy to increase in socialization between students with autism.

For her capstone research project Kunthi Hardi, a master’s student in Applied Behavior Analysis at the University of Washington’s College of Education, is using joint activity schedules with positive reinforcement to facilitate socialization between two students with autism.

Activity schedules are boards with pictures and words representing daily activities of that children can use to visualize what is upcoming, or to present options of activities from which they can choose. These types of supports can be useful to help children with autism, who may need help organizing their time, engaging in complex play themes, or following group directions, be more independent in the classroom. Visual supports of this type can also help provide concrete structure during social exchanges with peers. Often, activity schedules are used to provide support to one child at a time based on their individual learning needs.

“We generally use a lot of activity schedules when teaching students with autism,” said Hardi. “What makes this study different is I combined two students’ schedules and gave them an incentive to keep engaged and play together without teacher facilitation.”

The study used an activity schedule as a support for a pair of students. The activity schedule included three activity segments, and both students were involved in the creation of the schedule. Each child selected a preferred activity such as a game or a craft to put on the schedule, then the final segment was a reward activity that both enjoyed, such as a wagon ride.

“Because of the final ‘reward’ activity, both participants in this study were more likely to participate in the activities they did not choose, as well as take turns, share, comment on all activities and even tidy up,” Hardi said.

Hardi conducted her study at Haring Center’s Experimental Education Unit, where she works as a practicum student in Project DATA (Developmentally Appropriate Treatment for Autism), an extended-day program for preschool-aged children with autism.

She looks to continue her study in aid of helping children with autism build the social skills needed to thrive in their communities. If you’d like to learn more about Hardi’s study, you can reach her at hardi83@uw.edu.