Diminished Responsiveness to Parental Tutoring in Preschoolers with ASD: Implications for the Guided Participation Relationship
In a Guided Participation Relationship (GPR), parents scaffold children’s performance during instructional activity to promote competence and autonomy (Rogoff, Ellis, & Gardner, 1984) within their children’s Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky, 1978). Mothers of securely attached preschool children tend to provide more sensitive feedback, and are unlikely to use physical guidance (Meins, 1997). Feedback and responsiveness from their children help parents provide sensitive scaffolding. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their caregivers face challenges negotiating the GPR as measured by the Dyadic Coding Scales (DCS: Beurkens, Hobson, & Hobson, 2013).
We aimed to assess whether caregivers and their preschool-aged children with ASD differed from those without ASD during free play and parental tutoring. We predicted differences in the quality of the GPR. We studied whether there was change in a subset of the children with ASD who (with their parents) received an intervention designed to foster the GPR (Relationship Development Intervention, RDI).
In addition to language testing and a confirmation of diagnoses with the ADOS-2, 30 children (16 with ASD) and their caregivers were administered the Relationship Development Assessment – Research Version (RDA-RV: Larkin, Guerin, Hobson, & Gutstein, 2013) at the beginning and end of the preschool year. Two sets of coders, blind to the study design, rated the RDA-RV according to the DCS and also caregivers’ ability to tutor their children within the 'region of sensitivity to instruction’ (Meins, 1997).
At baseline, children with ASD were more likely to ignore or fail to adjust their behavior in response to parental feedback, t(28) = - 2.72, p = .011. Children in the comparison group were more likely to accommodate to parental suggestions, t(28) = - 2.43, p = .022. Parents in both groups provided equally sensitive responses, although those with children with ASD were more likely to use physical prompts. Parent-child dyads containing children with ASD were rated significantly lower on the Dyadic Coding Scales, t(28) = 3.68, p < .001. Child negative responsiveness was inversely correlated with dyadic scores on the DCS, even after taking into account variability associated with verbal mental age, partial-r = -.49, p = .008. Scores on the DCS improved significantly over the course of the school year for dyads participating in RDI, F (1,14) = 9.04, p = .009.
Children with ASD and their parents showed impairments in aspects of the GPR as assessed with the RDA-RV applying the Dyadic Coding Scales (Beurkens, Hobson, & Hobson, 2013; Hobson, Tarver, Beurkens, & Hobson, 2015). Despite children with ASD being more resistant to parental tutoring strategies, parents remained sensitive to their child’s needs. However, higher resistance to parent input in children with ASD was related to lower quality of dyadic relatedness on the DCS. Although ASD may present challenges for the child-caregiver GPR, results of the present study reveal the potential for improvements in the GPR when this is a treatment focus.