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Behavioral Measures of Play
Children with autism frequently display deficits in play skills, such as pretend
play and object manipulation. This is described both in the diagnostic criteria
for autism (American Psychiatric Association, 1994) and in descriptive
studies on children's play (Jarrold, 2003; Williams, 2003). However, the
nature of these deficits and the degree to which the play of children with
autism differs in complexity and variety from the play of typically developing
children is unclear (Vig, 2007).
The purpose of this article is to review the importance of play in a young
child's life and to discuss the importance of measuring play when designing
interventions for children with autism. Furthermore, this paper will present
an example of a consistent and reliable observation system that assesses the
complexity and variety of play on children with autism and with typically
Functional and symbolic play are assigned a pivotal role in a child's
development (Vig, 2007; Lifter, Sulzer-Azaroff, Anderson and Cowdery,
1993; Stanley and Konstantareas, 2007). Play also serves as an important
diagnostic tool for assessing children at-risk, such as children with autism,
and for designing interventions to improve functioning of these children
(Glitlin-Weiner, Sandgrund and Schaefer, 2000). Furthermore, several studies
in the field of behavior analysis have shown that teaching children with
autism appropriate play skills is an effective way to promote language and
social interaction (see for example, Goldstein and Cisar, 1992; Jahr, Eldevik
and Eikeseth, 2000; Ingersoll and Schreibman, 2006; Zercher, Hunt, Schuler
and Webster, 2001). Other studies have also shown that teaching children
with autism play can decrease inappropriate behavior (Santarcangelo, Dyer
and Luce, 1987; Stahmer and Schreibman, 1992). However, the behavioral
research literature is especially limited with regard to studies that aim at
increasing play skills per se in children with autism. As a result, few
behavioral measures exist on play skills and no comprehensive system exists
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Guðmundsdóttir, Kristín & Ala'i-Rosales, Shahla. Behavioral Measures of Play, paper, 2008; (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc77223/m1/1/: accessed March 24, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT College of Public Affairs and Community Service.