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Book Review: Crafting Connections; Contemporary Applied Behavior Analysis for Enriching the Social Lives of Persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Taubman, Leaf, McEachin, 2011 DRL Books)
(Reviewed by Beth Curry for the CT FEAT Board of Directors)

Social deficits define autism spectrum disorders and distinguish them from other kinds of impairments. Without a profound social deficit there is no autism.

Given the centrality of this deficit in autism, there is no shortage of “how to” books that purport to address it. Unfortunately, these books usually fall far short of providing the kind of detailed, specific, realistic and practical information needed to make meaningful measurable progress in teaching these critically important skills.


Crafting Connections; Contemporary Applied Behavior Analysis for Enriching the Social Lives of Persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Taubman, Leaf, McEachin, 2011) is written by the behavior analysts at Autism Partnership, the same folks who brought us three other exceptional contributions to the autism treatment literature: 1) A Work in Progress: Behavioral Management Strategies and a Curriculum for Intensive Behavioral Treatment of Autism; 2) Sense and Nonsense in the Behavioral Treatment of Autism: It has to be Said and 3) It’s Time for School: Building Quality ABA Educational Programs for Students With Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Like the other books from the Autism Partnership team, Crafting Connections has an explicitly behavior analytical perspective. As such, it’s a lot more sober minded than the wishy-washy “feel good” kinds of books typical of this genre. The writers let you know right up front: this stuff is hard! They realize that without a realistic understanding of the complexity of the challenges, which will vary so widely among individuals on the spectrum, you can’t have an effective battle plan for addressing them.

Autism intervention programs usually neglect social skills in favor of focusing on language and academic skills. Parents requesting that schools explicitly teach social skills often encounter the false claim that such skills are secondary and not part of the school’s legal duty to provide an “appropriate education.”

But Crafting Connections persuasively argues that social skills are more important than any other skill due to their powerful role in the acquisition of language, academic and self-help skills. The authors provide analysis and arguments that will help parents articulate the profound extent to which social intelligence is inextricably bound up with success in the more narrowly “academic” dimensions of education.

The attainment of certain social skill milestones may not be as easily grasped and measured as purely academic skills, like math or reading. But they have tremendous implications for the long term development of those academic and language related skills. Most of all, improved social functioning also leads to a better quality of life.

Which children can benefit from the specific curriculum and techniques outlined in Crafting Connections? As with all effective intervention, the earlier you get started, and the more intensively you teach, the greater the impact. But it’s not only young children who will benefit from the instructional guidance provided by this book.

Crafting Connections helps us learn to think about the complexity of these skills and the tremendous individuation required to teach them. Such understanding will enable teachers (including parents) to help children and adults of all ages, whatever their degree of disability.
Here’s what one CT FEAT member, parent of a five-year-old, had to say about the book:

I admit, it's a little scary realizing how so many of the social groups my son has been in probably weren't nearly as effective as they should have been. But perhaps knowing about it can help change it in the future. The authors convincingly articulate the need for a focus on social skills and succinctly explain how most of what's out there now isn't cutting it. I'm looking forward to trying teaching interactions with my son and may give the book as a gift to some people that work with him.

Here’s how the publisher of the book describes it:

This is a major work that teaches authentic, appropriate social skills to students with autism as they navigate the social world. Crafting Connections not only provides concrete information on developing social skills but also instructs readers on how to assess competency, develop programs, and create social skills curricula. The book contains a comprehensive curriculum that focuses on Social Awareness, Social Communication, Social Interaction, Social Learning, and Social Relatedness. The authors present the methods and means to teach and individualize programs. Sub-skills, prerequisites, and methods of instruction are outlined for each area in a methodical, easy-to-read manner.

There is an emphasis throughout on teaching interaction and creating authentic social competence. Real world issues such as teasing, bullying, conversational development and social comprehension are addressed in detail. The guide highlights skill development within a behavioral framework, providing quality social skill instruction to learners on the spectrum. Crafting Connections aims to foster genuine relationship development while remaining systematic and analytic; it goes beyond the rote and simplistic and helps develop social competencies as well as genuine meaningful, life enriching relationships. This is a comprehensive, easy-to-use guide that will help teachers, clinicians, and families teach social skills to children and youth with autism spectrum disorders.

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