Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 28, Issue 6, pp 487–497

Spontaneous Play in Children with Autism: A Reappraisal

  • Sarah Libby
  • Stuart Powell
  • David Messer
  • Rita Jordan
Article

Abstract

Much controversy remains regarding the ability of children with autism to engage in spontaneous play. In this study children with autism, Down syndrome and typical development with verbal mental ages of approximately 2 years were assessed for play abilities at three data points. Even in this group of children with autism, who had relatively low verbal mental ages, symbolic play skills were not totally absent. However, it was possible to distinguish their pattern of play behaviors from the other two groups. Consequentially, it is argued that there are unusual features in early spontaneous play in children with autism and these atypical patterns are not restricted to their difficulties in the production of symbolic play. Such differences in early spontaneous play raise interesting questions about the etiology of autism, the direction of future research, and the theoretical models that can account for the condition.

Spontaneous play autism symbolic play 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

REFERENCES

  1. Atlas, J. A. (1990). Play in assessment and intervention in the childhood psychoses. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 21, 119–133.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Baron-Cohen, S. (1987). Autism and symbolic play. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 5, 113–125.Google Scholar
  3. Baron-Cohen, S., & Ring, H. (1994). A model of the mindreading system: Neuropsychological and neurobiological perspectives. In C. Lewis & P. Mitchell (Eds.), Children's understanding of mind. Hove, U.K.: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  4. Boucher, J, & Lewis, V (1990). Guessing or Creating? A reply to Baron-Cohen. British Journal of Developmental Psychology: 8(2), 205–206.Google Scholar
  5. Charman, T. (1997). The relationship between joint attention and pretend play in autism. Development and Psychopathology, 9, 1–16.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Cohen, J. (1960). A coefficient of agreement for nominal scales. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 20, 37–46.Google Scholar
  7. Corrigan, R. (1987). A developmental sequence of actor-object pretend play in young children. Merill-Palmer Quarterly, 33, 87–106.Google Scholar
  8. Currie, G. (1996). Simulation-theory, theory-theory, and the evidence from autism. In P. Carruthers & P. K. Smith (Eds.), Theories of theories of mind. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. De Myer, M. K., Mann, M. A., Tilton, J. R., & Loew, L. H. (1967). Toy play behavior and use of body by autistic and normal children as reported by mothers. Psychological Reports, 21, 973–981.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Fein, G. G., & Apfel, N. (1979). Some preliminary observations on knowing and pretending. In N. Smith & M. Franklin (Eds.), Symbolic functioning in childhood. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  11. Fenson, L., Dale, P. S., Reznick, J. S., Thal, D., Bates, E., Hartung, J. P., Pethick, S., & Reilly, J. S. (1993). MacArthur Communicative Development Inventories. San Diego, CA: Singular.Google Scholar
  12. Gorlitz, D. (1987). Exploration and attribution in a developmental context. In D. Gorlitz & J. F. Wohlwill (Eds.), Curiosity, imagination and play: On the development of spontaneous, cognitive and motivational processes. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  13. Gould, J. (1986). The Lowe and Costello play test in socially impaired children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 16, 199–213.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Harris, P. L. (1994). Understanding pretence. In C. Lewis & P. Mitchell (Eds.), Children's early understanding of mind. Hove, U.K.: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  15. Hobson, R. P. (1993). Autism and the development of mind. Hove, U.K.: Erlbaum. Jarrold, C., Boucher, J., & Smith, P. (1993). Symbolic play in autism: A review. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 23, 281–309.Google Scholar
  16. Jarrold, C., Boucher, J., & Smith, P. K. (1994). Executive functioning deficit and the pretend play of children with autism: A research note. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 35, 1473–1482.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. 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
  18. Jarrold, C., Carruthers, P., Smith, P. K., & Boucher, J. (1994). Pretend play: Is it metarepresentational? Mind and Language, 9, 445–468.Google Scholar
  19. Jarrold, C., Smith, P., Boucher, J., & Harris, P. (1994). Children with autism's comprehension of pretense. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24, 433–455.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Kavanaugh, R. D., & Harris, P. L. (1994). Imagining the outcome of pretend transformations: Assessing the competence of normal children and children with autism. Developmental Psychology, 30, 847–854.Google Scholar
  21. Klinger, L. G., & Dawson, G. (1995). A fresh look at categorization abilities in persons with autism. In E. Schopler & G. B. Mesibov (Eds.), Learning and cognition in autism. New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  22. Leslie, A. M. (1987). Pretense and representation: The origins of “theory of mind.” Psychological Review, 94, 412–426.Google Scholar
  23. Leslie, A. M. (1994). Pretending and believing: Issues in the theory of ToMM. Cognition, 50, 211–238.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Lewis, V., & Boucher, J. (1988). Spontaneous, instructed and elicited play in relatively able autistic children. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 6, 325–337.Google Scholar
  25. Lewis, V., & Boucher, J. (1995). Generativity in the play of young people with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 25, 105–121.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Lewis, V., Boucher, J., & Astell, A. (1992). The assessment of symbolic play in young children: A prototypical test. European Journal of Disorders Of Communication, 27, 231–245.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Lillard, A. S. (1993). Pretend play skills and the child's theory of mind. Child Development, 64, 348–371.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Mundy, P., Sigman, M., Ungerer, J., & Sherman, T. (1986). Defining the social deficits of autism: The contribution of nonverbal communication measures. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 27, 657–669.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Ozonoff, S., Pennington, B. F., & Rogers, S. J. (1991). Executive function deficits in high-functioning autistic individuals: Relationship to theory of mind. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 32, 1081–1105.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Perner, J., Baker, S., & Hutton, D. (1994). Prelief: The conceptual origins of belief and pretence. In C. Lewis & P. Mitchell (Eds.), Children's early understanding of mind: Origins and development. Hove, U.K.: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  31. Reynell, J. K., & Huntley, M. (1987). Reynell Developmental Language Scale (3rd ed.). Windsor, U.K.: NFER—Nelson.Google Scholar
  32. Riguet, C. B., Taylor, N. D., Benaroya, S., & Klein, L. S. (1981). Symbolic play in autistic, Down's, and normal children of equivalent mental age. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 11, 61–70.Google Scholar
  33. Roeyers, H., & van Berkalaer-Onnes, I. (1994). Play in autistic children. Communication and Cognition, 27, 349–359.Google Scholar
  34. Ruff, H. A., & Saltarelli, L. M. (1993). Exploratory play with objects: Basic cognitive processes and individual differences. In M. H. Bornstein & A. W. O'Reilly (Eds.), The role of play in the development of thought: New directions for child development, 59. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  35. Sigman, M., & Ungerer, J. (1984). Cognitive and language skills in autistic, mentally retarded, and normal children. Developmental Psychology, 20, 293–302.Google Scholar
  36. Skelly, A., Lewis, V., & Collis, G. (1993). Affect and attention during motivated symbolic play in children with autism. Presented at the British Psychological Society Developmental Section Annual Conference, University of Birmingham, September 10–13.Google Scholar
  37. Stone, W. L., Lemanek, K. L., Fischel, P. T., Fernandez, M. C., & Altemeier, W. A. (1990). Play and imitation skills in the diagnoses of autism in young children. Pediatrics, 86, 267–272.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Tilton, J. R., & Ottinger, D. R. (1964). Comparison of the toy play behavior of autistic, retarded and normal children. Psychological Reports, 15, 967–975.Google Scholar
  39. Ungerer, J. A., & Sigman, M. (1981). Symbolic play and language comprehension in autistic children. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 20, 318–337.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Whyte, J., & Owens, A. (1989). Language and symbolic object play: Some findings from a study of autistic children. Irish Journal of Psychology, 10, 317–332.Google Scholar
  41. Wing, L., & Gould, J. (1979). Severe impairments of social interaction and associated abnormalities in children: Epidemiology and classification. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 9, 11–19.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Wulff, S. B. (1985). The symbolic play and object play of children with autism: A review. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 15, 139–148.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah Libby
    • 1
  • Stuart Powell
    • 2
  • David Messer
    • 3
  • Rita Jordan
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Clinical PsychologyUniversity of East AngliaNorwichUnited Kingdom
  2. 2.Division of EducationUniversity of HertfordshireAldenham, Watford, HertfordshireU.K
  3. 3.Division of PsychologyUniversity of HertfordshireHertfordshireU.K
  4. 4.School of EducationUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamU.K

Personalised recommendations