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Developments in the expressive language of young children with autism through participation in the ‘playboxes’ joint play method.

Marwick, Helen Margaret and Johnston, Lorna and Cowie, Hilary (2013) Developments in the expressive language of young children with autism through participation in the ‘playboxes’ joint play method. In: European Early Childhood Educational Research Association Conference, 2013-08-28. (Unpublished)

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Aims: To examine the impact of play engagement on expressive language in children with autism, using standardised assessments. Theoretical framework: Social communication difficulties in children with autism can be argued to follow from reduced motivation to engage in social interaction and reduced joint attention abilities with co-construction of meanings. Naturalistic play interventions are reported to develop communicative interactions, but standardised assessments are needed to provide independent, systematic evidence of language developments. Methodology: Pre- and post-intervention assessments were carried out on the expressive language of three children with autism, aged 5 -7 years, who were participating in weekly intervention sessions using the ‘Playboxes’ joint play intervention (Marwick, 2006) over a period of 3 months. The Renfrew Action Picture Test (RAPT) (Renfrew, 1997) and the South Tyneside Assessment of Syntactic Structures (STASS) (Armstrong and Ainley, 2007) were used, and number and mean length of utterances was noted. Ethical considerations: Playboxes is an enjoyable playful intervention, accessible to professionals and families, designed to support social interaction. Informed consent was gained. Findings: Post intervention standardised assessment of the verbal utterances of all three children showed significant increases in frequency, in grammatical complexity and sophistication, and in mean length of utterance. Implications: This evidence supports the position that expressive language of children with autism can be developed through joint–play engagement designed to increase joint attention experiences and promote shared communicative understanding. Language and communication development is of fundamental importance to educational inclusion and social well-being, and inclusion of this intervention in practice could be valuable for children with autism.