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Play Skills and Language Development in Children with Autism:

Play Skills and Language Development in Children with Autism

Research Questions:

Research Questions 1. Does the use of language increase during child specific play activities? 2. Does the use of pretend play activities increase the amount of language used during the play time?

Operational Definitions :

Operational Definitions Language : defined as any coherent, verbal utterance including one word utterances, to full sentences used throughout the play time. These words or sentences can include those used in or out of context or imitative of peers. Child-Specific Play: defined as any activity the child actively seeks to engage in for at least 5 minutes, and includes a tangible toy that can be used for multiple responses (i.e. a car can drive, go up a ramp, down a ramp, fill with gas, crash etc.).

Marbach & Yawkey, 1980 :

Marbach & Yawkey, 1980 Effects imaginative play would have on cognitive development of neuro-typical children. Experimental design. 60 participants: 30 boys, 30 girls Test language abilities after being read a story, and acting out the story. Results demonstrated an increase in language ability during the imaginative play scenario.

Wilson, 2007 :

Wilson, 2007 Investigated whether dramatic play had an effect on overall language development, complexity of language and written language abilities. Participants: 20 neuro-typical children, all residing in the same geographical region. Observation of play in the drama centre, as well as results of standardized tests. Overall, those involved in dramatic play increased scores with language ability, complexity and literacy (written).

Ungerer & Sigman, 2009:

Ungerer & Sigman, 2009 Determine relationship between play and language in a group of children with autism. Structured and free play assessments and tests of receptive language were used. Impairments in play were associated with lower language comprehension (receptive language).

Tamis-LeMonda & Bornstein, 1994 :

Tamis-LeMonda & Bornstein, 1994 Investigate language-play relationship during early childhood development, as well as if mother’s interaction had an effect on development. 41 participants from New York City Investigating association between play and language development, symbolic play does not effect overall language development, but more specifically it only effected children’s use of meaning in language.

Participants :

Participants The participants for the study will include children who have been diagnosed with mild autism by a recognized psychologist. Each participant must be between the ages of 3-4 and attend a preschool centre in the Toronto Area on a part-time basis. Before acceptance into the study parents/guardians were provided a survey to complete regarding their child’s verbal abilities as well as their play abilities.

Participants cont’d…:

Participants cont’d… Participants were also required to demonstrate the ability to show interest and play with at least 3 different age appropriate toys found typically in preschool centres. Each participant was required to show emerging verbal skills, and use at least 20 words independently throughout their day.

Method :

Method The research will employ a parallel mixed-method research design, using both qualitative research methods, and quantitative research methods. Why? Language and play can be ambiguous Increase accuracy of findings Provides a comparison for data purposes (between observation and survey).

Method cont’d…:

Method cont’d… Qualitative methods: 2 different observation periods. Quantitative methods: Questionnaire provided to preschool staff and parents/guardians of the participants.

Quantitative Method:

Quantitative Method Survey Parents/Guardians to complete by the end of the study Preschool staff to complete by the end of the study Questions on survey: Investigate amount of language used on regular daily basis During play activities and outside of play activities Give data to compare play vs. non-play activities

Qualitative Method:

Qualitative Method 1 st Observation: Free Play Child-specific play choice (can choose more than one activity) Observe child for 10 minutes Record number of verbal responses uttered Make note of type of play skills Note toys played with and verbal responses during those times.

Qualitative Method cont’d…:

Qualitative Method cont’d… Observation #2: Structured pretend-play activity Use of the same pretend materials each observation Includes 2 other peers Includes 3 different scenarios


Limitations Use of neuro-typical peers during pretend play scenario Generalization issues – across play activities, different peers Observations could be bias, language could be missed. Operational definitions might not be strong enough.

Ethical Considerations:

Ethical Considerations Cannot manipulate the situation to show strength of play (cannot cause a reduction in language). Cannot force a child to play with toys they are uninterested


Resources Cohen, J.S. & Mendez, J.L.(2009).  Emotion Regulation, Language Ability, and the Stability of Preschool Children's Peer Play Behavior'. Early Education & Development , 20(6) 1016-1037. Marbach, E.S & Yawkey, T.D (1980).  The Effect of Imaginative Play Actions on Language Development in Five-Year-Old Children. Psychology in the Schools. 17, 257-263. Mundy, P., Sigman, M., Ungerer, J., & Sherman, T. (1987).  Nonverbal Communication and Play Correlates f Language Development in Autistic Children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 17(3), 349-364. Tamis-LeMond, C.S, & Bornstein, M.H (1994).  Specificity in Mother-Toddler Language- Play Relations Across the Second Year. Developmental Psychology. 30(2), 283- 292.

Resources cont’d…:

Resources cont’d… Ungerer, J.A., & Sigman, M. (1981).  Symbolic Play and Language Comprehension in Autistic Children. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry. 20(2), 318-337. Wilson, C.N (2008).  Developing Narrative Language Through the Use of Dramatic Play in Preschoolers. Dissertation Abstracts International, Section A: The Humanities and Social Sciences .  68(7), 2803.

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