Age Differences in Objects Interesting Autistic Toddlers

Friday, May 12, 2017: 5:00 PM-6:30 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
V. Langlois1,2, V. Larose1, J. Degré-Pelletier2, G. Thermidor2, S. Mineau2, C. Jacques1,2 and L. Mottron, M.D.2, (1)University of Quebec in Outaouais, Gatineau, QC, Canada, (2)University of Montreal Center of Excellence for Pervasive Developmental Disorders (CETEDUM), Montreal, QC, Canada
Background:  It is well known that play and interest in objects mediate learning and that cognitive development in young typical children was notably rooted in solitary individuals’ sensorimotor interactions with objects (Pellegrini et al., 2007; Piaget, 1983). However, little attention has been paid to young autistic children's use of objects in play situations. Generally, research on autism has focused on restricted interests or restricted use of toys (Klin et al., 2007; Taylor Bruckner & Yoder, 2007). The Montreal Stimulating Play Situation (MSPS; Jacques et al., 2011) is a semi-structured observation schedule where toddlers are exposed to various toys of potential interest to autistic children.

Objectives: To document age differences in autistic toddler’s toy exploration while exposed to the MSPS.

Methods:  35 young autistic children (24-48 months, mean age = 38.46 months SD= 7.068, MSEL standard score: 63.7 ± 18.5) and 35 older autistic children (49-74 months, mean age = 58.63 months SD= 7.076, MSEL standard score: 68.0 ± 22.4) were exposed to the MSPS. The MSPS is composed of two periods of free play, a semi-free play period and a semi-structured play period and includes 34-40 objects. Object exploration was coded by two research assistants blind to the diagnosis using Observer (K=0.53). First, the Mann-Whitney U test was performed to evaluate the mean rank of the duration and frequency of object exploration in both groups. Then, the proportion of children exploring objects were compared across groups using the Fisher’s exact test.


Three objects were significantly more explored in mean rank frequency and duration by younger children (sound blocks, miniature cars, magnetic letters & numbers, all p’s<.05) and one object was significantly more explored in mean rank frequency (visual and sound train, p<.05). A marginally higher proportion of younger children explored the visual and sound train (82.9% vs. 60.0%, p=0.06) and the sound blocks (71.4% vs. 45.7%, p=.05).

Two objects were significantly more explored in mean rank frequency and duration by older children (books and balloons, all p’s<.05), while the wheel caterpillar was more explored only in mean rank frequency (p<.05). The remote controlled car was marginally more frequently explored (p=.06) and this exploration was lasted longer (p<.001). A significantly higher proportion of older children explored the books (57.1% vs. 25.7%, p< .05).

Conclusions:  Younger autistic children seem to explore toys which are designed for lower developmental levels and older autistic children explored toys which are designed for higher developmental levels. However, younger autistic children already show an interest for letters and numbers, which is congruent with research showing the precocity of literacy interest in autism (Newman et al., 2007).