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Multimodal Exploration in Children with Autism

Friday, 3 May 2013: 09:00-13:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
A. Hellendoorn1, F. Altena1, L. Wijnroks2, P. Leseman2 and E. Van Daalen3, (1)Department of Educational Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands, (2)Department of Special Education, Cognitive and Motor Disabilities, Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands, (3)Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University Medical Centre, Utrecht, Netherlands
Background: Skills develop in a multimodal context of people, objects and events that can be seen, heard and often felt (Smith and Gasser, 2005). Information emerging from multiple overlapping and time-locked sensory systems facilitates the detection of affordances in both the physical and social environment (Bahrick & Lickliter, 2000) and is therefore important for development.  

Objectives: The purpose of this study was to examine multimodal exploration in young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and to see whether children with ASD and children with other developmental delays/disorders (DD) without ASD differ in their multimodal exploration.

Methods: In this study 60 toddlers (30 with ASD) between the age of one and four years were included. Multimodal exploration was observed by applying a coding scheme to recordings of the ADOS using time sampling.

Results: The results show that the children with ASD display significantly less multimodal exploration (e.g. coordination feeling and looking at an object) compared to the children with DD. Moreover, the ASD group spends less time exploring the presented materials compared to the DD group. As hypothesized toddlers with ASD are less likely to explore multimodally and spend less time engaging with the presented materials.

Conclusions: Embodiment theory states that skills emerge in the interaction of the child with its environment and as a result of sensorimotor activity (Smith and Gasser, 2005). Children learn how to act upon their environment, the affordances of the environment, through exploration. Typically, this exploration is multimodal, information emerging from multiple sensory systems is overlapping and time-locked. Children with ASD may not only demonstrate less explorative behavior, their exploration seems to be more unimodal. This may affect the discovery of the affordances of the environment.

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