Behavioural and cognitive development and differences

Behavioural and Cognitive Development and Differences

Research projects

Pretend play deficits are regarded as a hallmark of autism, and are included as one of the diagnostic criteria. However, some research indicates that children with an ASD can engage in pretend play in special environments.

Our studies

In a series of studies, we have consistently failed to find generalised deficits in either elicited or spontaneous pretend play amongst 4 to 7-year-old children with high functioning autism. The exception was that they were less likely than typically developing children to substitute one object for another in play (e.g. pretending that a banana is a telephone). Moreover, we have shown that children with high functioning autism are able to both engage in and understand pretence actions that are similar to those of their typically developing peers and that are equally playful.

Professor Sue Leekam (Cardiff University), Professor Peter Hobson and Dr Jessica Hobson (University College London) have been collaborators in this research. Funding for this collaboration was obtained from the Nuffield Foundation. However, more research is needed on the very early development of pretend play in children with an ASD and on their understanding of communication during collaborative pretence.

Current studies

A longitudinal investigation of pretend play in young children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder

Researchers: Mahwish Chaudry (BSc Hons) and Cheryl Dissanayake (PhD)

Study aim: The main aim in this study is to compare the emergence of pretend play in children with and without an ASD from 18 to 48 months to establish if the developmental trajectory is the same in both groups. To date, there have been no longitudinal studies of pretence in young children with an ASD. A secondary aim is to explore how goal directed actions on objects, language ability and severity of autism symptoms are related to pretence abilities.

Start and completion date: June 2012 – Dec 2013.

For more information contact Ms Mahwish Chaudry or Professor Cheryl Dissanayake