Identifying Interests Related to Literacy in Preschool Autistic Children: Results of the New Autism Toddler Strengths and Interests Questionnaire

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 2, 2019: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
V. Larose1,2, V. Langlois1,2, L. Mottron, M.D.2 and C. Jacques1,2, (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: Klin, Danovitch, Merz and Volkmar (2007) showed that 75% of young autistic children (age 2 to 6) with typical intelligence present intense interests. However, few studies and instruments have documented intense interests in autistic children at age of diagnosis. Moreover, diagnostic instruments give little information on the nature of autistic interests, despite documenting their restriction and intensity. In contrast, an abundant literature based on questionnaires or interviews indicates that intense interests are valued by parents of typical children and may be used for motivational and learning ends (Hume, Lonigan et McQueen, 2015).

Objectives: To compare parental reports of young autistic children’s interests to those of typical children using the recently developed Autism Toddler Strengths and Interests Questionnaire (ATSIQ).

Methods: The ATSIQ, is composed of 19 close- and open-ended questions, documenting the child’s interests and how the parents perceive these interests. 20 parents of autistic children (mean age = 60.75 months SD= 8.27) and 20 parents of typical children (mean age = 53.40 months SD= 15.17; p=.067) participated in a semi-structured phone interview using the ATSIQ. Non-parametric tests (U Mann-Whitney) were performed to compare groups on 1-the frequency of each topic of interest and 2- the parental perception of the child’s interests.

Results: Four topics of interest were significantly more frequent in autistic children: Letters, Numbers, Electronics (computers/tablets/smartphones) (all p’s<.05) and Logos (p<.01). These were also considered more intense by the parents (p<.05) compared to interests in typical children. Seven topics of interest were significantly more frequent in the typical group: Play with friends (p<.001), Stuffed animals (p<.01), Books, Symbolic play, Legos, Cars, and Insects (all p’s<.05). Parents’ perception of their child’s interests was less favorable in the autistic group (p<.001).

Conclusions: The present study indicates a higher frequency of interests related to literacy in preschool autistic children compared to typical children. Literacy skills emergence in young autistic children is associated to the strength profile seen in this population’s development trajectory (Ostrolenk et al. 2017; Westerveld et al. 2016; Mottron et al. 2013). However, the results suggest a less favorable parental perception of interests in autism. The next step of the present study is to perform a qualitative analysis that will provide more information about the nature of the child’s principal interest and its context of emergence. Since parental attitude toward their child’s interests tends to favor learning in typical development (Lukie, Skwarchuk, LeFevre et Sowinski, 2014), the ATSIQ could be useful in informing parents about the nature and value of their child’s interests.