OBJECTIVES. Using a taxonomy of object play, this study describes methodological issues in using retrospective video analysis and computer-based coding as a research tool for early identification of autism.
METHOD. Home videos of 32 infants with autism (n = 11), developmental delay (n = 10), and typical development (n = 11) were edited and analyzed for duration and highest level of object play in four hierarchical categories (exploratory, relational, functional, symbolic) using The Observer 3.0.
RESULTS. The three groups had similar levels of engagement with objects, and no statistically significant differences in duration of exploratory play. Higher levels of play were rarely evident at 9–12 months, however, the highest level achieved (functional play) was apparent only in the typical group.
CONCLUSION. This study provides the first naturalistic investigation of object play skills in infants with autism ages 9–12 months. It also demonstrates feasibility for using computer-based coding technology within the context of retrospective video analysis methods. Duration of exploratory play was not a discriminating feature of autism at this early age.