Development and Psychopathology

Articles

Peer interactions of autistic children and adolescents

Catherine Lorda1 c1 and Joyce MaGill-Evansa2

a1 The University of Chicago

a2 University of Alberta

Abstract

Two observational studies of verbal, high-functioning children and adolescents with autism; nonautistic, behaviorally disordered youngsters of equivalent verbal skills and chronological age; and verbal age-matched normally developing students during integrated summer day camps are reported. In the first study, observations were made of spontaneous peer interaction and play over the course of 2 weeks of day camp. The eight autistic subjects were consistently more likely to not be interacting and less likely to be engaged in any purposeful activity than the 16 other children. During the 2 weeks, time interacting and purposeful activity increased overall. In the second study, the quality of spontaneous peer-directed initiations was observed during free time in similar day camps the following summer. The 11 autistic children and adolescents produced fewer initiations than did the 20 other children and were less likely to smile or coordinate several behaviors with eye contact during an initiation. Autistic subjects were consistently more likely not to receive a response to their initiation than the other groups, although there was no identifiable relationship between the quality of the initiation and the likelihood of it receiving a response.

Correspondence

c1 Catherine Lord, Department of Psychiatry, The University of Chicago MC 3077, 5841 S. Maryland Ave., Chicago, IL 60637 or cathy@yoda.bsd.uchicago.edu.