"I Wanna Play Too”: Increasing Social Interactions of Preschool Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder through Cooperative Outdoor Play

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 10, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
S. M. Ziegler and M. Morrier, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, Decatur, GA
Background: Recent estimates from CDC's ADDM Network indicate that for 4-year-old children, the prevalence of ASD is 1 in 74. Thus, early educational settings have increased numbers of children with ASD attending. In these settings, daily outdoor recess is usually offered, allowing children to play in an unstructured manner. Such unstructured times, often lending children with ASD to spend the majority of recess isolated, socially disconnected, and engaging in non-functional behaviors, represent missed opportunities to teach needed peer-related social skills.

Objectives: This study examined if a structured, cooperative play recess curriculum with a focus on natural modelling and imitation: (a) increased the rate of proximity of children with ASD to peers with NTD, (b) increased the number of social bids from children with ASD to peers with NTD, and (c) increased the number of social bids from peers with NTD to children with ASD. Specific objectives included: (a) examining if the intervention increased social behaviors in children with ASD, and (b) examining factors related to the overall increases in social behaviors demonstrated by participating children as a whole.

Methods: Thirty-five preschool-aged children with and without ASD participated. A multiple baseline across classroom design was used to investigate the effect of the intervention on social communication behaviors, in one intervention and two generalization settings. The intervention consisted of child dyads singing randomly chosen movement songs in front of one another, in a larger group setting. Data was collected using a 120-s observe; 30-s record, partial interval system. A MANOVA was performed to determine the effects of study phase, ASD status, and age of child. Based on the results of the MANOVA, one-way ANOVA was conducted to determine how each variable played into the results obtained.

Results: Participants with ASD increased their social bids towards peers with NTD. Pre-K students generalized and maintained these increases in the free-play setting, whereas younger children did not generalize skills. Examination of factors related to increases showed significant differences based on child ASD status, child’s age, and study condition. ANOVA results with age range as the between group factor indicated significant differences for rate of typical proximity, for rate of ASD proximity, for ASD receives, and for ASD gives. Study condition indicated significant main effects for rate of typical proximity and for rate of ASD proximity. Study condition was also significant for typical receives, and ASD receives. In terms of initiations of social bids to peers, only typical gives was significant for study condition.

Conclusions: Once the intervention was introduced, social interactions between children with ASD and their peers increased over baseline levels. These increases generalized and maintained for older, but not younger participants. The ASD status of the target child was investigated to determine which population of child, typical or ASD, made the most improvements. Results from this study support previous research on structuring peer interactions during unstructured times as a means to increase social bids between typical peers and peers with ASD, and extends the research downward in age to toddler and preschool-aged children.