Are Fathers Active Playmates with Their Children with ASD, and Why This Is Relevant for Therapy?

Thursday, May 12, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
P. Venuti1, A. Bentenuto2 and C. Furlanello3, (1)University of Trento, Trento, Italy, (2)University of Trento, Trento, TN, Italy, (3)FBK - Fondazione Bruno Kessler, Trento, Italy

Healthy parent-child interaction is essential for child development. In particular, parents play a central role in the acquisition of social and communicative skills, both in typical as well as in atypical children (Flippin & Crais, 2011). While mothers tend to rise play level (both for exploratory or symbolic play), fathers usually tune their play level closer to the child one ( de Falco et al. 2009, 2010) . It is thus relevant, also for potential application, to assess quantitatively the relevance of fathers engagement with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), who are  characterized by social and communication deficits.  


The aim of the  study is to evaluate comparatively  interactive behaviours and play of mothers and fathers with their children with ASD in a structured experimental setup. We search for patterns of interaction that are consistently tuned closely to child actual level and does can serve sustaining long interaction time. 


This study involved 60 parent-child dyads: 30 children with ASD (M chronological age= 45.7 months [range: 23-68]; SD=12.80; M mental age = 34 months, [range: 13-72],SD=15.43) in interaction with their mothers and their fathers, separately. To assess parent-child interaction, data were collected during two consecutive video recorded 10 min play sessions. A play code (Bornstein et al 1997, Venuti et al, 2008) was applied to the child’s play and to the parent’s play. Finally, the emotional profiles in parent-child dyads were evaluated using the Emotional Availability Scales (EAS4thEdition, Biringen 2008). 


Regarding the construct of emotional availability, in this study no significant difference was found between mothers and fathers. Children with ASD mainly engaged in exploratory play, both with fathers and mothers. We found that mothers prefer  symbolic play levels, while fathers use significantly more exploratory play. As a consequence, we measured longer average interaction time with fathers. 


As fathers are active playmates with their ASD children, they can achieve longer and richer interaction also when symbolic level is not attained and it is hard to engage the child. Taking into account this advantage, the involvement of the father should became a solid base ground in early autism intervention.