Graduation Year

2017

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

Psychology

Second Department

Human Services and Rehabilitation Studies

Faculty Advisor

Paula Fitzpatrick

Keywords

Autistic children, Communication disorders in children, Developmentally disabled children, Social skills, Interpersonal relationships, Language development

Abstract

Two of the most salient features of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are impairments in communication and engagement in restricted and repetitive behaviors (RRBs). The goal of this study was to identify the effects of social context on both the occurrence of RRBs and social language performance in children with ASD. In this study, we defined the social context of a situation based on the primary focus (object or conversation) and the initiator of the interaction (child or experimenter). We performed a frequency count of RRBs as well as a mean length of utterance (MLU) analysis for play tasks with variations in focus and initiator. These measurements indicated that RRBs were lower in object-focused and child-initiated tasks; however, these situations also revealed a lower MLU. MLUs were higher for child-initiated tasks than experimenter-initiated tasks and for conversation tasks than object-focused tasks. These results imply that the type of tasks that are effective in lowering RRBs may not lend themselves to the further development of interpersonal communication skills. In order to develop more effective therapy options, it is important to understand the purpose of RRBs to find effective ways to reduce them while also increasing communication skills.