Objectives. This research focused on two questions. First, how does the play of children with autism differ from that of normally developing children? Second, what are the relationships between play performance and adaptive abilities?

Method. Nine children with autism and nine children without dysfunction were matched by mental age, gender, and socioeconomic status. Play performance was determined from videotapes of children playing in their homes. Parents provided information on children’s adaptive abilities.

Results. The children with autism differed from their peers on the total play score and the participation dimension of the Preschool Play Scale. Communication, as measured by the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, was the adaptive ability most highly associated with play performance of the children with autism.

Conclusion. The results suggest that deficits in social development are a primary feature of autism. The findings support the use of play to evaluate and develop the interpersonal skills and habits of preschool children with this disorder.

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