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

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

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Symbolic play Autism Metarepresentation Executive functioning Intersubjectivity Identification Fun 

References

  1. Adamson, L. B., Bakeman, R., & Deckner, D. F. (2004). The development of symbol-infused joint engagement. Child Development, 75, 1171–1187. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2004.00732.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: Revised fourth edition (DSM-IV). Washington, DC: APA.Google Scholar
  3. Baron-Cohen, S. (1987). Autism and symbolic play. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 5, 139–148.Google Scholar
  4. Bishop, M., Hobson, R. P., & Lee, A. (2005). Symbolic play in congenitally blind children. Development and Psychopathology, 17, 447–465. doi:10.1017/S0954579405050212.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Charman, T., & Baron-Cohen, S. (1997). Brief report: Modelled pretend play in autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 27, 325–332. doi:10.1023/A:1025806616149.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Charman, T., Swettenham, J., Baron-Cohen, S., Cox, A., Baird, G., & Drew, A. (1997). Infants with autism: An investigation of empathy, pretend play, joint attention, and imitation. Developmental Psychology, 33, 781–789. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.33.5.781.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dunn, L. M., Dunn, L., & Whetton, C. (1982). British picture vocabulary scale. NFER-Nelson: Windsor, UK.Google Scholar
  8. García-Pérez, R. M., Hobson, R. P., & Lee, A. (2008). Narrative role-taking in autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38, 156–168.Google Scholar
  9. García-Pérez, R. M., Lee, A., & Hobson, R. P. (2007). On intersubjective engagement in autism: A controlled study of nonverbal aspects of conversation. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 1310–1322. doi:10.1007/s10803-006-0276-x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Griffith, E. M., Pennington, B. F., Wehner, E. A., & Rogers, S. J. (1999). Executive functions in young children with autism. Child Development, 70, 817–832. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00059.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gutstein, S. E., Burgess, A. F., & Montfort, K. (2007). Evaluation of the relationship development intervention program. Autism, 11, 397–411. doi:10.1177/1362361307079603.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Harris, P. (1993). Pretending and planning. In S. Baron-Cohen, H. Tager-Flusberg, & D. Cohen (Eds.), Understanding other minds: Perspectives from autism (pp. 228–246). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar
  13. Hobson, J. A., Harris, R., García-Pérez, R., & Hobson, R. P. (2008). Anticipatory concern: A study in autism. Developmental Science (in press).Google Scholar
  14. Hobson, J. A., & Hobson, R. P. (2007). Identification: The missing link between imitation and joint attention? Development and Psychopathology, 19, 411–431.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hobson, R. P. (1990). On acquiring knowledge about people and the capacity to pretend: Response to Leslie. Psychological Review, 97, 114–121. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.97.1.114.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hobson, R. P. (1991). Against the theory of ‘Theory of Mind’. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 9, 33–51.Google Scholar
  17. Hobson, R. P. (1993). Autism and the development of mind. Hove, Sussex: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  18. Hobson, R. P. (2000). The grounding of symbols: A social-developmental account. In P. Mitchell & K. J. Riggs (Eds.), Reasoning and the mind (pp. 11–35). Hove, UK: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  19. Hobson, R. P. (2002/4). The cradle of thought. London: Pan Macmillan; New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Hobson, R. P. (2005). Why connect? On the relation between autism and blindness. In L. Pring (Ed.), Autism and blindness (pp. 10–25). London: Whurr.Google Scholar
  21. Hobson, R. P. (2007). Communicative depth: Soundings from developmental psychopathology. Infant Behavior and Development, 30, 267–277. doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2007.02.006.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hobson, R. P. (2008). Interpersonally situated cognition. International Journal of Philosophical Studies, 16, 375–395.Google Scholar
  23. Hobson, R. P., Chidambi, G., Lee, A., & Meyer, J. (2006). Foundations for self-awareness: An exploration through autism. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, Serial no. 284, Vol. 71. Google Scholar
  24. Hobson, R. P., & Lee, A. (1999). Imitation and identification in autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 40, 649–659. doi:10.1017/S0021963099003923.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hobson, R. P., Lee, A., & Hobson, J. A. (2007). Only connect? Communication, identification, and autism. Social Neuroscience, 2, 320–335. doi:10.1080/17470910701376852.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hobson, R. P., & Meyer, J. A. (2005). Foundations for self and other: A study in autism. Developmental Science, 8, 481–491. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2005.00439.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Jarrold, C. (2003). A review of research into pretend play in autism. Autism, 7, 379–390. doi:10.1177/1362361303007004004.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Jarrold, C., Boucher, J., & Russell, J. (1997). Language profiles in children with autism: Theoretical and methodological implications. Autism: The International Journal of Research and Practice, 1, 57–76.Google Scholar
  29. Jarrold, C., Boucher, J., & Smith, P. (1993). Symbolic play in autism: A review. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 23, 281–306. doi:10.1007/BF01046221.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Jarrold, C., Boucher, J., & Smith, P. K. (1996). Generativity deficits in pretend play in autism. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 14, 275–300.Google Scholar
  31. Leslie, A. M. (1987). Pretence and representation: The origins of “theory of mind”. Psychological Review, 94, 412–426. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.94.4.412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lewis, V., & Boucher, J. (1988). Spontaneous, instructed, and elicited play in relatively able autistic children. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 6, 325–339.Google Scholar
  33. Lewis, V., & Boucher, J. (1991). Skill, content and generative strategies in autistic children’s drawings. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 9, 393–416.Google Scholar
  34. Libby, S., Powell, S., Messer, D., & Jordan, R. (1998). Spontaneous play in children with autism: A reappraisal. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 28, 487–497. doi:10.1023/A:1026095910558.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lillard, A. S. (1993). Pretend play skills and the child’s theory of mind. Child Development, 64, 348–371. doi:10.2307/1131255.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Lockyer, L., & Rutter, M. (1970). A five to fifteen year follow-up study of infantile psychosis: IV Patterns of cognitive ability. British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 9, 152–163.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Perner, J. (1990). Understanding the representational mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT/Bradford.Google Scholar
  38. Reddy, V. (2003). On being the object of attention: Implications for self-other consciousness. Trends in Cognitive Science, 7, 397–402. doi:10.1016/S1364-6613(03)00191-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rutherford, M. D., & Rogers, S. (2003). Cognitive underpinnings of pretend play in autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 33, 289–302. doi:10.1023/A:1024406601334.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Schopler, E., Reichler, R. J., & Renner, B. R. (1988). The childhood autism rating scale (CARS). Los Angeles, CA: Western Psychological.Google Scholar
  41. Shrout, P. E., & Fleiss, J. L. (1979). Intraclass correlations: Uses in assessing rater reliability. Psychological Bulletin, 86, 420–428. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.86.2.420.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Sigman, M., & Ungerer, J. A. (1984). Cognitive and language skills in autistic, mentally retarded, and normal children. Developmental Psychology, 20, 293–302. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.20.2.293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Stanley, G. C., & Konstantareas, M. M. (2007). Symbolic play in children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 1215–1223. doi:10.1007/s10803-006-0263-2.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Tomasello, M. (1999). The cultural origins of human cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Vygotsky, L. S. (1976, originally 1933). Play and its role in the mental development of the child. In J. S. Bruner, A. Jolly, & K. Sylva (Eds.), Play: Its role in development and evolution (pp. 537–554). Harmondsworth, Middlesex, UK: Penguin.Google Scholar
  46. Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Internalization of higher psychological functions. In M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman (Eds.), Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes (pp. 52–57). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Werner, H., & Kaplan, B. (1963/1984). Symbol formation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  48. Wing, L., Gould, J., Yeates, S. R., & Brierley, L. M. (1976). Symbolic play in severely mentally retarded and autistic children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 18, 167–178. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.1977.tb00426.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Wolf, D., & Gardner, H. (1981). On the structure of early symbolism. In R. L. Schiefelbusch & D. D. Bricker (Eds.), Early language: Acquisition and Intervention (pp. 287–327). Baltimore: University Park Press.Google Scholar
  50. Wulff, S. B. (1985). The symbolic and object play of children with autism: A review. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 15, 149–148. doi:10.1007/BF01531600.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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

Personalised recommendations