a1 The University of Chicago
a2 University of Alberta
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.