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Play Profiles in Toddlers At-risk for Autism Across the Second Year of Life

Year: 2023

Presenter Name: Jada Voth

Background: Early play skills are linked with several critical areas such as cognition, social communication, and language. Preschool-aged children with developmental delays often show differences or delays in their play development, including play that is less elaborative and less varied than their typically developing peers. However, less is known about play in the toddler years for children with or at-risk for developmental delays. This study examines the play of toddlers at 18- and 24-months of age with increased likelihood of autism due to significant language delays. Methods: Toddlers with language delay (LD; n=30) or typical development (TD; n=61) were drawn from longitudinal studies of early LD. Toddlers with LD were classified as ASD (LD-ASD; n=11) or non-ASD (LD-NonASD; n=19) after an evaluation at 36-months. A coding scheme was used to code play from a video-recorded 15-minute parent-child interaction with a standard set of toys obtained at 18 and 24 months. The variables examined included: total number of play actions, proportion of actions across four levels of play (indiscriminate, discriminate, functional/conventional, and symbolic), and diversity of play (number of different play actions and number of different toys played with). Results: Table 1 provides a summary of descriptive statistics of play at 18 and 24 months. In general, toddlers in the LD-ASD group engaged in fewer total play actions compared with toddlers with LD-NonASD and TD at both 18 and 24 months. Examination of the proportions of play actions across the four levels of play revealed that the LD-ASD group engaged in more Indiscriminate play (Level 1) compared to the LD-NonASD and TD groups. In contrast, toddlers in the LD-Non-ASD and TD groups showed proportionally more Discriminate and Functional/Conventional play. In relation to play diversity, toddlers in the LD-ASD group engaged in fewer different play actions than toddlers in the LD-NonASD and TD groups at 18 and 24 months. Conclusion: Preliminary findings from this study suggest that toddlers with LD and particularly those with ASD outcomes engaged in less sophisticated and less diverse play compared to TD toddlers at 18 months, with this play profile persisting at 24 months. Although significant variability was observed, toddlers in the LD-NonASD group showed similar frequency and diversity of play to TD, a surprising result given the relationship between language and play development reported in the literature. Regardless of group, toddlers engaged in less indiscriminate play and more functional/conventional play from 18 to 24 months. Continuing to follow this LD sample over time to examine how play develops with age along with language and social communication will be important in informing a more complete picture of the play of toddlers with delays, with the goal of informing more targeted interventions.
University / Institution: University of Utah
Type: Poster
Format: In Person
Presentation #A65
SESSION A (9:00-10:30AM)
Area of Research: Social Sciences
Faculty Mentor: Stacy Shumway Manwaring