Objectives: The purpose of this study was to (1) examine the performance of symbolic acts in children with ASD from the perspective of ‘triune representation’ point of view; (2) explore the nature of symbolic acts in play context.
Methods: Based on the perspective of ‘triune representation’, a modified paradigm from Striano, et al (2001) was tested to 17 children with ASD (mean CA= 69 months, mean MA= 56 months), 17 MA-matched children with DD and 19 children with TD. Two experiments were arranged. In experiment 1, examiner (E) introduced the doll house divided into four rooms with appropriate prop sets and used the three pairs of actors, including replica (a toy man and toy woman), instrumental (a pencil and a scissors), and natural (a rock and a stick) to play. Study session consisted two phases: baseline and testing phases. In baseline phase, E introduced the doll house and encouraged the child to use each of the three actors set in turn. Each pair can play in the doll house for two minutes. In testing phase, E modeled with the Action or Language conditions first and then encouraged the child to play each pairs of actors for 2 minutes. We measured child’s symbolic acts spontaneously in the Action and Language conditions. In experiment 2, children were given the ‘functional sets’ (i.e., doll + bed and pegboard + hammer) first and then ‘symbolic sets’ (i.e., doll + block and pegboard + brush) to play in front of E. We counted the child’s looking behaviors as he/she engage in the functional and symbolic acts with object.
Results: (1) in experimental 1, there was no significant difference of symbolic acts among the three groups in the baseline phase. After E’s modeling, children with ASD displayed lower novel symbolic acts on replicate set and natural set, and imitated less symbolic acts on instrumental set comparing with the two controls. (2) in experimental 2, the three groups all looked to E immediately after performing a symbolic acts more often than when they performed functional set. The children with ASD displayed less looks to E than children with DD and TD after they displayed the symbolic acts.
Conclusions: Using the perspective of ‘triune representation’ to measure the spontaneous symbolic play acts, children with ASD showed impairments on both imitative and novel symbolic acts. Furthermore, even children with ASD have developed the basic symbolic play behaviors, they displayed less looks to the adult. The theory of intersubjectivity deficit (Rogers & Pennington, 1991) in ASD was provided to explain the phenomenon.