Evaluating the Role of Social Approach Behaviors in Language Development

Thursday, May 12, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
J. Weber1, A. Gutierrez2 and M. Alessandri2, (1)Els for Autism Foundation, Jupiter, FL, (2)University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL

According to social motivation and social orienting models of autism, decreased social interest leads to less social input and fewer social learning opportunities (Chevallier et al., 2012; Mundy & Neal, 2001). These models suggest that the ability to initiate and participate in social interactions are important factors in language development. Research in this area has focused on the role of joint attention in language development however; the current study takes a broad view of social interest and posits that not only joint attention, but all socially mediated behaviors are important in language development


To evaluate a novel behavioral-coding scheme of social approach behaviors and determine the relationship between social approach behaviors and language development.


Thirty-nine children, 3-5 years of age, with ASD who particpated in a completed multisite study comparing pre-school programs were included in the study. The current study utilized ADOS, PLS4 and MSEL assessments, administered at both the beginning and end of the academic year.

A social approach (SA) coding scheme was devised that used frequency counts of seven social behaviors (gaze to a person, smiling, showing, pointing, giving, vocalizations and laughing) emitted during an ADOS. These behaviors were coded as being either initiated by the child or occurring in response to the parent or examiner. No distinction was made on the basis of the function of the behavior. Composite scores of social initiations and responses were used to evaluate the role of these behaviors in both concurrent language abilities as well as language development over the course of an academic year


SA rates were correlated with existing measures of social motivation suggesting that SA coding is capturing a similar construct as those of existing measures.                                                                                            

Multiple regression was used to determine the relative contribution of ADOS social affect scores, social initiation rates and social response rates. The model significantly predicted concurrent receptive language abilities, however, only social responses significantly contributed to this relationship (Table 1). Hierarchical regression was used to evaluate the role of social initiations and social responses in receptive language development. Both social initiations (Δ R2 = .054) and social responses (Δ R2= .076) were found to significantly contribute to receptive language development.

Equivalent analyses were run for expressive language. Again, only social responses significantly contributed to concurrent expressive language using the multiple regression model (Table 2). Similarly both social initiations (Δ R2 = .043; .05) and social responses ((Δ R2= .034; .053) were found to contribute to expressive language development as assessed by the PLS4 and MSEL, respectively.


The SA coding scheme provides an alternative way to quantify behaviors on the ADOS that may be used in treatment development and assessment. Given the relationship between SA rates and language development, using this coding scheme may provide a way to determine those individual behaviors that lead children to differentially respond to various interventions. Continuing with this line of research will help parents/professionals determine which types of intervention are most beneficial to children based on various pretreatment behavioral profiles.