Qualities of Symbolic Play Among Children with Autism: A Social-Developmental Perspective

  • R. Peter Hobson
  • Anthony Lee
  • Jessica A. Hobson
Original Paper


We hypothesized that the qualities of play shown by children with autism reflect their impoverished experience of identifying with other people’s attitudes and moving among person-anchored perspectives. On this basis, we predicted their play should manifest a relative lack of the social-developmental hallmarks that typify creative symbolic functioning. We videotaped the spontaneous and modelled symbolic play of matched groups of children with and without autism. The two groups were similar in the mechanics of play, for example in making one thing stand for another and using materials flexibly. By contrast, and as predicted, children with autism were rated as showing less playful pretend involving self-conscious awareness of pretending, investment in the symbolic meanings given to play materials, creativity, and fun.


Symbolic play Autism Metarepresentation Executive functioning Intersubjectivity Identification Fun 



This research was supported by grants from the Economic and Social Research Council (Award Reference Number R000239355) and Baily Thomas Charitable Fund, and by NHSE R&D funding. We are indebted to the pupils, parents, teachers and staff of Edith Borthwick School and Helen Allison School for making the study possible. We gratefully acknowledge Rosa García-Pérez for her expert assistance and helpfulness in editing the videotapes, and Rachel Carey for her careful ratings. We presented aspects of this study at the International Conference for Infant Studies, Kyoto, Japan, June 2006.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. Peter Hobson
    • 1
    • 2
  • Anthony Lee
    • 2
  • Jessica A. Hobson
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of Child HealthUniversity CollegeLondonUK
  2. 2.Developmental Psychopathology Research UnitTavistock ClinicLondonUK

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