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Title: An investigation into the development of symbolic play in children with autism
Author: Sherratt, Dave
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2006
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Impairments in the use of varied, spontaneous, symbolic or imaginative play or the absence of developmentally appropriate social imitative play is of diagnostic significance in autism (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders, 4th edition [DSM IV] 1994). Many studies have found a poverty in play generally and particularly in spontaneous symbolic play amongst children with autism. It is then remarkable that some research studies have found that in structured settings such children are able to understand pretence and produce acts of pretence. Study 1 was a small scale study of 6 children with autism in a school setting and found that some were able to learn to play symbolically following a 4-month intervention. Structure and affective engagement emerged as 2 factors possibly mediating this improvement. Study 2 contrasted Structure and Affect each in combination with Repetition in a quasi-experimental design with 12 (different) children. Study 3, using a similar method to Study 2, additionally considered two further variables: interest in the materials and the identity of the researcher. The study showed that symbolic play acts could be elicited in the participants using high structure and high affect conditions. The use of high interest toys was less likely to elicit symbolic acts in these participants. The number of symbolic acts used by the participants were not unduly influenced by the replication of the conditions by a second researcher. A factor that possibly mediated the effects seen in Study 3 was the social-communicative responses of the participants and so Study 4 studied children with learning difficulties, four who had autism and 4 who did not, matched on verbal comprehension and examined the level of social communication responses in relation to symbolic play during three conditions of high affect, high structure and low intervention. Implications for education and further research are discussed. Results of all studies were not definitive. This represents a preliminary study to identify factors that may be effective in the teaching of symbolic play to children with autism. Some initial success with individual children indicates structure and affective engagement as factors that need to be investigated in future research.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: HQ The family. Marriage. Woman