Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 39, Issue 3, pp 432–443

When Asking Questions is Not Enough: An Observational Study of Social Communication Differences in High Functioning Children with Autism

Original Paper


This investigation examined communication patterns between high functioning children with autism and their families and typically developing children and their families within traditional dinner time conversation. Twenty families with a child with autism (3.5–7 years.) and ten families with typically developing children (3.5–6 years) were video recorded during dinner and their interactions were coded. Results revealed that children with autism initiated fewer bids for interactions, commented less often, continued ongoing interactions through fewer conversational turns, and responded less often to family member communication bids. Results are interpreted with respect to how communication patterns may be indicative of social communication deficits not previously examined in high functioning children with autism. Strategies for social communication interventions within the family and other natural contexts are discussed.


Social communication High functioning autism Family interactions 


  1. Adamson, L. B., McArthur, D., Markov, Y., Dunbar, B., & Bakeman, R. (2001). Autism and joint attention: Young children’s responses to maternal bids. Applied Developmental Psychology, 22, 439–453. doi:10.1016/S0193-3973(01)00089-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
  3. Bacon, A. L., Fein, D., Morris, R., Waterhouse, L., & Allen, D. (1998). The responses of autistic children to the distress of others. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 28, 129–142. doi:10.1023/A:1026040615628.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bellon-Harn, M. L., & Harn, W. E. (2006). Profiles of social communicative competence in middle school children with Asperger syndrome: Two case studies. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 22, 1–26. doi:10.1191/0265659006ct295oa.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bono, M. A., Daley, T., & Sigman, M. (2004). Relations among joint attention, amount of intervention and language gain in autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34, 495–505. doi:10.1007/s10803-004-2545-x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bruinsma, Y., Koegel, R. L., & Koegel, K. L. (2004). Joint attention and children with autism: A review of the literature. Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 10, 169–175. doi:10.1002/mrdd.20036.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carpenter, M., & Tomasello, M. (2000). Joint attention, cultural learning, and language acquisition. In A. M. Wetherby & B. M. Prizant (Eds.), Autism spectrum disorders: A transactional, developmental perspective (pp. 31–54). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.Google Scholar
  8. Charman, T., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2006). Screening for autism spectrum disorders in populations: Progress, challenges, and questions for future research and practice. In T. Charman & W. Stone (Eds.), Social communication development in autism spectrum disorders: Early identification, diagnosis, and intervention (pp. 63–87). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  9. Doussard-Roosevelt, J. A., Joe, C. M., Bazhenova, O. V., & Porges, S. W. (2003). Mother-child interaction in autistic and nonautistic children: Characteristics of maternal approach behaviors and child social responses. Development and Psychopathology, 15, 277–295.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gardner, M. F. (1990). Expressive one-word picture vocabulary test-revised: Manual and form. Novato, CA: Academic Therapy Publications.Google Scholar
  11. Gibbs, N. (2006). The magic of the family meal. Time, 167, 50–52.Google Scholar
  12. Jones, C. (2006). The family interaction coding system-III [manual]. Seattle, WA: University of Washington.Google Scholar
  13. Kasari, C., Freeman, S., & Paprella, T. (2006). Joint attention and symbolic play in young children with autism: A randomized controlled intervention study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47, 611–620. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2005.01567.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kasari, C., Sigman, M., Yirmiya, N., & Mundy, P. (1993). Affective development and communication in young children with autism. In A. P. Kaiser & D. P. Gray (Eds.), Enhancing children’s communication: Research foundations for intervention (pp. 201–222). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.Google Scholar
  15. Keen, D., Rodger, S., Doussin, K., & Braithwaite, M. (2007). A pilot study of the effects of a social-pragmatic intervention on the communication and symbolic play of children with autism. Autism, 11, 63–71. doi:10.1177/1362361307070901.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kerig, P. K., & Lindahl, K. M. (Eds.). (2001). Family observational coding systems. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  17. Leekam, S. R., & Ramsden, C. A. H. (2006). Dyadic orienting and joint attention in preschool children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36, 185–197. doi:10.1007/s10803-005-0054-1.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lord, C., & Magill-Evans, J. (1995). Peer interactions of autistic children and adolescents. Development and Psychopathology, 7, 611–626.Google Scholar
  19. Lovaas, O. I. (1987). Behavioral treatment and normal educational and intellectual functioning in young autistic children. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55, 3–9. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.55.1.3.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. MacDonald, R., Anderson, J., Dube, W. V., Geckeler, A., Green, G., Holcomb, W., et al. (2006). Behavioral assessment of joint attention: A methodological report. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 27, 138–150.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Marans, W. D., Rubin, E., & Laurent, A. (2005). Addressing social communication skills in individuals with high-functioning autism and Asperger syndrome: Critical priorities in educational programming. In F. R. Volkmar, R. Paul, A. Klin, & D. Cohen (Eds.), Handbook of autism and pervasive developmental disorders (pp. 977–1002). New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  22. Mundy, P., Delgado, C., Block, J., Venecia, M., Hogan, A., & Seibert, J. (2003). Early social communication scales [manual]. Coral Gables, FL: University of Miami.Google Scholar
  23. Mundy, P., Sigman, M., & Kasari, C. (1990). A longitudinal study of joint attention and language development in autistic children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 20, 115–128. doi:10.1007/BF02206861.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (2005, September). The importance of family dinners II. Retrieved July 10, 2006, from
  25. Paul, R., & Sutherland, D. (2005). Enhancing early language in children with autism spectrum disorders. In F. R. Volkmar, R. Paul, A. Klin, & D. Cohen (Eds.), Handbook of autism and pervasive developmental disorders (pp. 946–976). New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  26. Rubin, E., & Lennon, L. (2004). Challenges in social communication in Asperger syndrome and high-functioning autism. Topics in Language Disorders, 24, 271–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Schwartz, I. S., Sandall, S. R., McBride, B. J., & Boulware, G. (2004). Project DATA (Developmentally Appropriate Treatment for Autism): An inclusive school-based approach to educating young children with autism. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 24, 156–168. doi:10.1177/02711214040240030301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Sigman, M., & McGovern, C. W. (2005). Improvement in cognitive and language skills from preschool to adolescence in autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 35, 15–23. doi:10.1007/s10803-004-1027-5.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Sigman, M., & Ruskin, E. (1999). Continuity and change in the social competence of children with autism, Down syndrome, and developmental delays. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 64, 1–139. doi:10.1111/1540-5834.00002.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Tapp, J., & Walden, T. (2000). Procoder: A system for collection and analysis of observational data from videotape. In T. Thompson, D. Felce, & F. Symons (Eds.), Behavioral observation: Technology and applications in developmental disabilities (pp. 61–70). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.Google Scholar
  31. Tapp, J. T., Wehby, J. H., & Ellis, D. (1995). MOOSES: A multi-option observation system for experimental studies. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, and Computers, 27, 25–31.Google Scholar
  32. Travis, L., Sigman, M., & Ruskin, E. (2001). Links between social understanding and social behavior in verbally able children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 119–130. doi:10.1023/A:1010705912731.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Webster, D. G. (1995). The case for research in naturalistic environments. Contemporary Psychology, 40, 688–689.Google Scholar
  34. Whalen, C., Schreibman, L., & Ingersoll, B. (2006). The collateral effects of joint attention training on social initiations, positive affect, imitation, and spontaneous speech for young children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36, 655–664. doi:10.1007/s10803-006-0108-z.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Wolfberg, P. J., & Schuler, A. L. (2006). Promoting social reciprocity and symbolic representation in children with autism spectrum disorders: Designing quality peer play interventions. In T. Charman & W. Stone (Eds.), Social and communication development in autism spectrum disorders: Early identification, diagnosis, and intervention (pp. 180–218). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Puget SoundTacomaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Special EducationUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

Personalised recommendations