Social ABCs

A Parent Training
Early Intervention Program

What is the Social ABCs?

The Social ABCs is an early intervention program for toddlers showing social-communication challenges that may be signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The Social ABCs is parent-mediated: This means that parents learn a set of strategies for helping their toddler communicate and interact socially. This learning occurs with the support of a coach and a parent manual.

This intervention program falls under the umbrella of Naturalistic Developmental Behavioral Interventions (NDBI’s – LINK TO SCHREIBMAN 2015). Parents or other primary caregivers work with a trained Social ABCs coach to learn the intervention strategies in their child’s natural environment, using play-based activities and daily routines that their child finds most motivating.

There are currently two versions of the Social ABCs:

(1) The standard Social ABCs model, which involves 12 weeks of 1:1 coaching and didactic instruction that takes place in the family’s home or community.

(2) The Group Social ABCs model, which involves 6 weeks of didactic instruction, that takes place in a small group format, and 1:1 coaching within a clinic setting.

Who is the Social ABCs designed for?

The Social ABCs was developed for toddlers, aged 12 to 36 months, who have suspected or confirmed autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or related social-communication challenges.

What does the Social ABCs focus on?

The program has two main targets:

(1)  Child communication (intentional, directed, functional vocal communication)

(2)  Sharing meaningful, positive emotions with a primary caregiver (usually a parent)

How was the Social ABCs developed and Where is it Available?

Two Psychologists, Jessica Brian and Susan Bryson, developed the Social ABCs in response to many years of research on the early development of social-communication in babies. Together with a team of researchers, their studies identified some very early signs of emerging social-communication challenges that are sometimes early signs of autism spectrum disorder. The Social ABCs was developed to address these very early challenges as soon as they are apparent, to help parents foster their toddlers’ emerging social-communication development.

The Social ABCs was based on what we already know about early childhood communication, social, emotional and cognitive development, as well as effective interventions for preschool age children with ASD, and the most effective ways of training adult caregivers. 

To date, the Social ABCs mostly occurs within the context of research projects, but this has been changing lately, and the Social ABCs is becoming more available as a clinical service (see TAB). Our first big initiative to provide the Social ABCs through a clinical service took place in partnership with McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton Ontario, through an initiative funded by Ontario’s (past) Ministry of Children and Youth Services. The Social ABCs is now available clinically at our Holland Bloorview site in Toronto, and a few other training activities are underway to increase families’ access to this program. 

How do we Know the Social ABCs works?

The standard Social ABCs program is supported by evidence from a pilot study (LINK TO 2016 paper) and a two-site randomized control trial (LINK to 2017 PAPER). The RCT study demonstrated that the group of toddlers and parents who received the intervention made greater gains (compared to a waiting list control group who received community-based “treatment as usual”) in several areas of child development and parent learning. Specifically, parents in the intervention group learned the strategies, and toddlers who received the intervention made gains in their social-communication skills at a rate that was higher than their peers who did not receive the intervention (note that all toddlers in the ‘control’ group were offered the intervention after completion of the control phase).

The Group Social ABCs model is currently being delivered as a research program in order to establish its efficacy. Based on informal preliminary analyses (with 35 families), the Group model appears to be demonstrating good levels of parent learning and toddler gains. This project will conclude in the fall of 2020, at which point formal analyses will be completed.

Finally, our large community implementation with McMaster University has now concluded, and analyses are underway (projected completion of analyses: May 2020). Data from this project will allow our team to determine the effectiveness of the program when delivered as a clinical service within a “real-world” setting.

For more information about our research findings: (TAB to list of pubs and media)

Since I started the program I feel much more confidence, and the achievements of [my son] make us so happy. Each new word, each new action is the greatest happiness in the world, and I was part of it.”

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I seriously believe that one main reason [my son] continues to improve in his speech and communication is because you (the Social ABCs) gave him a head start. He can now express himself in simple sentences and so much more.”

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I believe the reason I have the relationship with my son that I do is because of the Social ABCs, and the work you’ve done with both of us. He is a totally different kid today than when we started.”

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Looking For More Information?

Check out our current Toronto-based research studies here:

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