Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis and Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Psychology: School Psychology

First Advisor

Valeri A. Farmer-Dougan


Joint attention, the ability to coordinate one’s attention with that of another person (Dawson et al., 2004), and imitation, the ability to copy another person’s behavior (Sevlever & Gillis, 2010), are two of the initial methods by which children learn from and interact with the world around them (Trevarthan, 1979). These two skills are related to the development of language, social skills, and play. Further, they seem to come naturally in typically developing children. For children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), however, these skills are often delayed or entirely absent, thereby potentially leading to significant impediments in the acquisition of crucial functional skills (Dawson et al., 2004). Social orienting theory posits that children with ASD exhibit such deficits in joint attention and imitation because of their lack of attention to social stimuli and, as a result, the decreased attempts by others in their environment to engage them (Dawson et al., 2004).

Current estimates report that the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) averages one in every sixty-eight children (CDC, 2014). For children with ASD, research has repeatedly emphasized the importance of both early identification and early intervention (Koegel, Koegel, Ashbaugh, & Bradshaw, 2014; National Research Council, 2001). One early intervention model that is based on social orienting theory is the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), which considers dyadic interactions between the therapist and the child as a prime avenue for learning not only basic social skills such as joint attention and imitation but also more complex social skills, language, and play (Rogers & Dawson, 2010).

Data from 23 children participating in an ESDM program were examined in the current study; specifically, the researcher assessed whether children demonstrated significant skill growth over the first six months of intervention. Further, the researcher evaluated the relationship between joint attention and imitation as well as how these core areas correlated with additional skills, including language, social skills, and play. Finally, the researcher investigated whether level of joint attention and imitation at baseline predicted overall responsiveness to the intervention.

Results showed that all children in the study made significant progress in all areas in the first six months of intervention. The hypothesized positive relationship between joint attention and imitation was supported; however, results did not indicate a trajectory wherein joint attention was acquired prior to imitation. Results supported the relationship between both joint attention and imitation skills and subsequent language, social, and play skills. Finally, baseline skill levels did not significantly predict overall performance.


Imported from ProQuest Karlen_ilstu_0092E_11501.pdf


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