1. Autism
  2. Therapies Guide
  3. Developmental

Developmental social-pragmatic (DSP) model

At a glance: Developmental social-pragmatic (DSP) model
Type of therapy
The claim
Improves communication
Suitable for
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Research rating

Find out more about this rating system in our FAQs.

Some research shows positive effects, more research needed.

Estimate of the total time for family in hours per week and duration

The time commitment required depends on the type of program used and the specific needs of the child.

Estimate of cost to family per session/item or week

The cost of this approach depends on the type of DSP intervention being used.

What is the developmental social-pragmatic model?

The developmental social-pragmatic model is not a therapy in itself. Rather, it’s an approach to intervention that uses everyday interactions between caregivers and children to promote communication. Parents and caregivers follow their children’s leads or interests and respond to children’s communication attempts.

The model uses techniques from Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), including incidental teaching.

Other interventions that use a developmental social-pragmatic approach include the More Than Words® program and the DIR®/Floortime™ model.

Who is the developmental social-pragmatic model for?

The developmental social-pragmatic model is used with children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It’s recommended for children who already have some basic communication skills. Specific age limits might apply depending on the type of developmental social-pragmatic intervention being used.

What is the developmental social-pragmatic model used for?

The developmental social-pragmatic model is used to help children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) start communication and engage in communication without being prompted. This model also aims to improve social interactions like turn-taking.

Where does the developmental social-pragmatic model come from?

The developmental social-pragmatic model comes from research on communication development in typical children. Research on its use for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been growing since 2005.

What is the idea behind the developmental social-pragmatic model?

The developmental social-pragmatic model is based on developmental theory and research on interactions between typically developing children and their caregivers.

The key idea behind the developmental social-pragmatic model is that caregivers can improve the development of children’s social communication through the way they respond when they’re interacting with their children.

Developmental social-pragmatic interventions don’t focus so much on the type of communication – that is, it’s not about turning nonverbal communication into verbal communication. Rather, a developmental social-pragmatic approach looks at the purpose of communication – that is, what children are trying to get out of any communications.

In the developmental social-pragmatic model, all communication efforts (words, gestures or sounds) are rewarded to encourage children to try again in the future.

What does the developmental social-pragmatic model involve?

Interventions using the developmental social-pragmatic model typically happen in a child’s home. Parents or other primary caregivers tend to deliver the interventions.

In a typical developmental social-pragmatic intervention, parents might create a setting that interests the child. For example, they might set up a play area with the child’s preferred toys. Then the parents:

  • encourage the child to interact – for example, by putting a favourite toy out of reach, so the child needs to ask for it
  • respond to every communication attempt – for example, they give the child the toy regardless of how she asks for it (it doesn’t matter whether she grunts, points or speaks)
  • might model another way of communicating where the purpose is more clear
  • use words to express their feelings and label how the child might be feeling – for example, ‘I’m really happy you asked for that toy. It looks like you feel happy too’
  • adjust how they interact (based on the child’s developmental level) to ensure the child understands.

Developmental social-pragmatic interventions can be very time-intensive, involving many hours a day. Depending on the goals set for a child, this approach could go on for several years.

Cost considerations

The cost of a developmental social-pragmatic intervention depends on the type of intervention.

Does the developmental social-pragmatic model work?

Some research has shown positive effects from this model, but more high-quality studies are needed. The techniques used in this model are based on ABA principles, which are well supported by research.

Who practises the developmental social-pragmatic model?

The professionals involved in developmental social-pragmatic interventions vary depending on the interventions.

Parent education, training, support and involvement

If your child is using a developmental social-pragmatic intervention, you usually play an active role because these interventions typically happen in the home. Training and other supports might be available, depending on the intervention.

Where can you find a practitioner?

If you’re interested in developmental social-pragmatic interventions, it’s a good idea to talk about them with your GP or one of the other professionals working with your child. You could also talk with your NDIA planner, NDIS early childhood partner or NDIS local area coordination partner, if you have one.

There are many treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for children with ASD takes you through the main treatments, so you can better understand your child’s options.

Rate this article (6 ratings)

Tap the stars to rate this article.

Thanks for rating this article.

Last updated or reviewed

  • Tell us what you think
  • References

Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

Follow us

© 2006-2018 Raising Children Network (Australia) Ltd