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Parent-child interactions in autism: characteristics of play

Although the literature on parent-child interactions in young children with autism has examined dyadic style, synchrony, and sustained engagement, the examination of parental skill in sustaining and developing play skills themselves has not been targeted. This study examined the extent to which parents of young children with autism match and scaffold their child’s play. Sixteen dyads of parents and their children with autism participated in this study along with 16 matched dyads of typically developing children. Both groups were administered a structured play assessment and were observed during a 10-min free play situation. Strategies of play were examined and results revealed that parents of children with autism initiated more play schemes and suggested and commanded play acts more than parents of typical children. They also responded to their child’s play acts more often with a higher level play act, while parents of typical children matched/expanded their responses to their child. Parent imitation was also related to longer sequences of play. The findings can guide further research and play intervention for parents.