Loyola University Maryland

Emerging Scholars

Natalie Rallis, Mary Jo Coiro, Ph.D., Sharon Green-Hennessey, Ph.D., Rebecca Landa, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

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Associations Among the Development of Language, Play, and Joint Attention in Toddlers with Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Autism spectrum disorders or ASDs (which include autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, or PDD NOS) are a group of biologically based neurodevelopmental disorders that affect 1 in 110 children.  Deficits in language, play, and joint attention (the ability to collaboratively attend to the same thing as someone else; Poole, Warren, & Nuñez, 2007; Wetherby & Prizant, 2002) are core features of ASDs.  

The proposed research will examine associations between receptive language, cognitive and social aspects of play, and initiation of and response to joint attention, in 49 toddlers with ASDs enrolled in a high quality intervention classroom (Landa, Holman, O’Neill, & Stuart, 2011).  Measures include standardized assessments of language and joint attention, and both standardized assessments and videotaped observations of play in the classroom.  Based on the cognitive underpinnings implied in the literature, it is hypothesized that increases in receptive language over the 6-month intervention period will be associated with increases in the cognitive complexity of play.  Furthermore, based on the social foundations implied in the literature, it is hypothesized that increases in initiation of joint attention over the 6-month intervention period will be associated with increases in the social complexity of play.   Findings are expected to increase understanding of specific developmental associations in toddlers with ASDs and thus promote even earlier diagnosis and intervention, which is known to optimize treatment outcomes.