Do Play Contexts Impact Language Production in Preschool Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 10, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
A. Binns1, D. Casenhiser2, S. Shanker3,4 and J. Oram Cardy5, (1)Western University of Ontario, London, ON, Canada, (2)Audiology & Speech Pathology, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Knoxville, TN, (3)The MEHRIT Centre, Peteborough, ON, Canada, (4)York University, Toronto, ON, Canada, (5)Western University, London, ON, Canada
Background: Children’s language environments affect their language production during early stages of language development, and beyond. Language contexts also impact language assessment (i.e., language sampling) and influence how clinicians approach intervention. One essential environmental factor to consider for young children is the play context or toys available in the environment. Research on typically developing toddlers revealed symbolic play contexts that involved interaction with blocks and cars promoted more frequent and complex language than play contexts with gross motor toys. However, when the symbolic toys context was altered to include dolls and house toys, children used more labels than in the gross motor context but the frequency and complexity of language was not significantly altered, Additionally, preschool children spoke more frequently and used more diverse language during free-play with a parent than when engaged in a structured task (i.e., puzzle completion). Currently there is little research examining the impact of play contexts on the language production of preschool children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Given the social communication deficits and sensory challenges children with ASD often encounter, it is possible that the most beneficial play contexts for yielding a language sample in children with ASD would not be the same as for typically developing children.

Objectives: To explore the impact of three different play contexts (symbolic, tactile, and gross motor) on the communication of preschool children with ASD.

Methods: Forty-nine children with ASD aged 25-57 months were videotaped during natural play interactions with a parent. Five minutes each of play with three sets of toys (symbolic, tactile, gross motor) were used to examine children’s communication. Data used in this study were part of a larger RCT, however, only pre-treatment, parent-child play interactions were examined here. Videos were transcribed in CHILDES CHAT format and the main function of each child utterance was coded for language function (Casenhiser et. al, 2015). CLAN analyses of the transcripts extracted the frequency of each function code, total number of utterances, mean length of utterance (MLU), total word types, total word tokens, type-token ration (TTR), and number of verbs/utterance.

Results: There were no significant differences across the three contexts in most aspects of children’s language productions, including their use of comments, protesting, questions, verbs/utterance, or diversity of language functions. However, children produced significantly fewer word types (p<0.5) and fewer utterances in the tactile play context than the other two contexts (p<0.001). In addition, children produced more affirming utterances during symbolic and tactile than gross motor play (p<0.5), and more directing utterances during gross motor play than during symbolic or tactile play (p<0.5).

Conclusions: Play contexts seem to impact some aspects of language production differently and not others, in preschool children with ASD. Children with ASD appear to use language differently than their typically developing peers across different play contexts, and might benefit from using a variety of play contexts (e.g. symbolic and gross motor) during language assessment or intervention.