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Play in Mother-Child Interaction: Comparison Between Children with Autism Specutum Disorder, Children with Down Syndrome and Children with Typical Development

Friday, 3 May 2013: 09:00-13:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
A. Bentenuto1, S. Riccadonna2, C. Furlanello3 and P. Venuti4, (1)Department of Cognitive Sciences and Education, University of Trento, Rovereto, Italy, (2)Bruno Kessler Foundation FBK, Trento, Italy, (3)FBK - Fondazione Bruno Kessler, Trento, Italy, (4)University of Trento, Trento, Italy
Background:  Children, during the play have the chance to develop not only motor skills but also cognitive and social skills (e.g. Bornstein, 2007). Much of children’s first learning and many of their first  experiences occur during play (Tamis-LeMonda & Bornstein 1996; Bornstein 2007). Caregiver involvement in child play activities enhances the frequency, the duration, and the complexity of child play both in typically developing children and in children with atypical developmental (Bornstein et al. 1996, 2002; Venuti et al. 1997, 2008). In addition, children with ASD show less spontaneous, frequent and limited symbolic play, spend less time in such play and show fewer extended sequences of symbolic play compared to typically developing children or children with intellectual disabilities (Blanc at al, 2005; Jarrold et al, 1996, Rutherford and Rogers 2003).

Objectives:  The aim of the present study is to investigate the play during mother-child interaction in children with ASD compared to children with DS and typically developing (TD) mental-age-matched.


A total of 75 children and their mothers took part. The index group consisted of 25 children with ASD (M mental age = 24.2 months, SD 9.8; M chronological age = 43.3 months, SD = 7.6) and their mothers, of 25 children with DS (M mental age = 21.1 months, SD 4.3; M chronological age = 37.7 months, SD = 8.6) and their mothers and a group of 25 mental-age-matched typically developing children (M chronological age = 20.01 months; SD = .21) Data were collected during 10-min play-sessions. A set of standard, age-appropriate toys that represent feminine, masculine, and gender-neutral categories was used. During the session, the mother was asked to play individually with her or his child, as they typically would do. Sessions were video recorded. The play code consisted of mutually exclusive and exhaustive category system that included eight levels and a default (no play) category (see Bornstein et al., 1996;). Levels 1-4 constitute the macrocategory Exploratory play, and Levels 5-8 constitute the macrocategory Symbolic play.

Results:  Considering the structure of child play, we found a general prevalence of exploratory activity in the three groups. Either groups had a mean mental age of approximately 20 months, which means they should have already achieved some symbolic play, which they had, but are still very much engaged in exploration of the environment. The SD children show less exploratory play less compared with TD children or ASD children. For the symbolic play we found ASD children presented the same level and duration as SD children or children with typical developmental.


the children with ASD engaged in symbolic play similar to metal-age matched children, and this information can help to improve some interventions that use play.

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