Objectives: The objectives of this study were: 1) to compare parents use of utterances that follow their child’s focus of attention during a parent-child play sample gathered in the second year of life in toddlers with ASD and with typical development (TD); and 2) to examine the relationship between parent utterances and child outcomes at age 2.
Methods: Seventy-three parent-child dyads were recruited from the ongoing longitudinal prospective study of the FIRST WORDS® Project for this study. Dyads participated in both the Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales (CSBS; Wetherby & Prizant, 2002) Behavior Sample and an interactive play sample (M=16.46 months; SD = 3.47). The dyads included 32 children with ASD and 41 children with TD matched on mental age. Additionally, all children were assessed using the Mullen Scales of Early Learning (MSEL) around 2 years of age (M=26.26 months; SD = 5.57).
Play samples were coded for parent synchrony using the Observer® Video-Pro Software. Parent utterances were coded as either synchronous (referring to the child’s focus of attention) or asynchronous (not referring to the child’s focus of attention), and further coded as demanding (requiring the child to do something s/he was not already doing) or undemanding (not requiring the child to do something s/he was not already doing).
Results: Analyses of 73 parent-child dyads indicate that parents in both groups used predominantly synchronous language in similar proportions. However, parents of children with ASD used less undemanding and more demanding language than parents of children with TD. More specifically, when parents of children with ASD used synchronous language, they used more demanding and less undemanding utterances. Additionally, parents of children with ASD used more asynchronous-demanding language. For children in the ASD group, parent use of asynchronous-undemanding language was related to the child’s nonverbal developmental quotient on the MSEL at age two. No significant correlations were observed between synchronous or asynchronous language and verbal developmental quotient.
Conclusions: Similar to the findings of Siller and Sigman (2002), our findings indicated that parents of toddlers with ASD talked about their child’s focus of attention as often as parents of toddlers with TD matched on mental age. Additionally, consistent with parents of preschool children, parents of toddlers with ASD used more demanding language than parents of children with TD (Watson, 1998). In our sample, synchronous caregiver language, both demanding and undemanding, did not predict child language outcomes. Previous findings demonstrating that synchronous caregiver language predicted child language outcomes together with our findings suggest that synchronous language may be necessary, but not sufficient for positive child language outcomes.