, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 283-299

The effect of social context on the functional communication skills of autistic children

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This study investigated autistic children's use of attention-directing gestures and language in three different interactive situations which varied in social context factors. These behaviors were videotaped and compared in autistic children (n=15), children with developmental language delay (n=14), matched on mental age and mean length of utterance (MLU), and MLU-matched young normal children (n=13). Results supported the hypothesis that autistic children's attention-directing behavior would differ most from that of the other groups in spontaneous interactions. However, contrary to expectation, the autistic children did not produce more attention-directing behavior when a high degree of adult direction was provided. Overall, the autistic group used attention-directing behaviors less frequently than the other groups, and in the autistic group these behavors varied less across social context factors. Results are interpreted in terms of their implications for language intervention programs with autistic children.

This work was supported in part by National Institutes of Health grant NS18448. The authors thank Robin McEvoy, Michelle Kelley, Belgin Tunali, and Dennis Brunt for their help in coding and data analysis.