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Beyond intervention into daily life: A systematic review of generalisation following social communication interventions for young children with autism

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)506-522
Number of pages17
JournalAutism research
Issue number4
Early online date14 Jan 2020
Accepted/In press26 Dec 2019
E-pub ahead of print14 Jan 2020
Published1 Apr 2020


King's Authors


Researchers have generally considered autistic individuals to have difficulties generalising learned skills across novel contexts. Successful generalisation is necessary for an intervention to have benefits in everyday life beyond the original learning environment. We conducted a systematic review of randomised controlled trials of early social communication interventions for children with autism in order to explore generalisation and its measurement. We identified nine RCTs that provided evidence of initial target learning and measured generalisation, of which eight demonstrated at least some successful generalisation across people, settings, and/or activities. The findings did not support the widely reported generalisation ‘difficulties’ associated with autism. However, generalisation was not consistent across all skills within studies, and one study found no generalisation despite evidence for initial target learning within the intervention context. In general, there are few methodologically sound social communication intervention studies exploring generalisation in autism and no consensus on how it should be measured. In particular, failure to demonstrate initial learning of target skills within the intervention setting and an absence of formal mediation analyses of the hypothesised mechanisms limit current research. We outline a framework within which measurement of generalisation can be considered for use in future trials. To maximise the effectiveness of interventions, the field needs to gain a better understanding of the nature of generalisation among autistic individuals and what additional strategies may further enhance learning. Autism Res 2020, 13: 506–522.

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