Mentors: Professor Robert Wozniak, Graduate Student Rebecca Bubb
At the present time, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) cannot be reliably detected in children until they reach the age of 3. At this time, many parents begin modified programs and give their children differentiated attention to help them and others cope with their impairments. Research suggests that earlier intervention will have beneficial results in the education and life skills of children with ASD. Thus, the goal of our research is to look at potential early indicators, such as toy play patterns, that can help identify those children who are likely to receive an eventual ASD diagnosis.
Study participants include 8-, 13-, and 18-month-old children who are either part of a no-risk (NR) control group, or part of an at-risk group. The at-risk group consists of the baby siblings of children who have an ASD diagnosis. Subjects were filmed playing in their homes for 45 minutes sessions, 20 minutes of which we are utilizing for this project. When looking at these 20-minute segments, we first determine whether a child is engaging with an object (they must handle or touch the object for more than a second), and then whether their object engagement is sensorimotor or functional. Sensorimotor actions include behaviors such as shake, bang, and rub, while functional play occurs when a child engages in an object in a way that utilizes one of its designed affordances, such as putting the lid on a box.
Since the films were recorded, some of these children have already received ASD diagnosis and it is possible that several more will. As these children are diagnosed, we expect to be able to look retrospectively at the data and discuss our results in terms of which toy-play behaviors may be significant indicators of later ASD diagnosis.