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The ERIC/OSEP Special Project

OSEP, Ideas that Work

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Development funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs


Helping Preschool Children Interact: Social Skills Interventions that Work in Inclusive Settings

Teachers understand that preschool children from 3 to 5, especially those with disabilities, may not naturally acquire the skills to function socially with their peers. A recent OSEP-funded research synthesis reviewed social skills interventions used by early childhood educators and analyzed the types of interventions that were most effective across disabilities.

The research synthesis reviewed the results of 23 studies of social skills interventions that included almost 700 students exhibiting a variety of disabilities. The interventions in the studies were delivered either by teachers, researchers, therapists, parents, or peers without disabilities. Criteria for inclusion were that

  • The children be between the ages of 3 and 5
  • At least 50% of the participants in the study had an identified disability
  • The study was of a multiple- or single-group design
  • The intervention was intended to improve social behavior and it measured some aspect of social functioning.

The following types of intervention were shown to be most effective:

  • Modeling: Peers and teachers demonstrate specific desired behaviors to children with disabilities.
  • Play-related activities: Specific play activities intended to help the development of cognition, language, and social functioning are used.
  • Prompting: Students are prompted to display target behaviors.
  • Rehearsal and practice: Students practice the target behaviors.

Other effective intervention features included reinforcement of appropriate behaviors through systematic rewards; free-play generalization, where children play with untrained peers or with untrained toys during free play time; and direct instruction, which teaches specific behaviors.

Many of the most effective interventions had been integrated into daily instructional programs by classroom teachers, allowing them to "concentrate their efforts on the implementation of social skills intervention programs that connect with the early intervention programs they are providing, rather than determining the specific type of independent social skills intervention that is most effective."

For a complete discussion of findings from this study, refer to Sharon Vaughn, Ae-Hwa Kim, Claire V. Morris Sloan, Marie Tejero Hughes, Batya Elbaum, and Dheepa Sridhar. "Social Skills Interventions for Young Children with Disabilities," Remedial and Special Education, 24, no. 1 (January/February 2003): 2-15. The research synthesis was funded in part by the Office of Special Education Programs, US Department of Education, Grant #H324D980030.

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Last updated: March 6, 2003

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