Nicole Henriksen


Using Imitative Play and Free Play to Facilitate the Development of Social and Play Skills in Young Children with Autism  

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disability characterized by impairments in socialization and communication and repetitive, stereotyped behaviors (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).  For young children with autism, it is important to target deficits in play and imitation skills.  An approach involving adult imitation of the child's play has been shown to increase positive social and play behaviors of young children with autism (Dawson & Adams, 1984; Dawson & Galpert, 1990).  However, no studies have compared the effects of adult versus peer play partners.  This study had two major purposes: 1) to explore which play partner, adult or peer, would promote the most gains in social and play behaviors and 2) to evaluate the effects of imitative play and free play.  The participants were eight preschool children with autism, two typically developing peer play partners, and three adult play partners.  Each child with autism completed two five-minute baseline sessions and six nine-minute play sessions.  All sessions were videotaped and involved either an adult or peer play partner with an alternating design of one of two sequences: 1) free play - imitative play - free play or 2) imitative play - free play - imitative play.  Coding and data analysis are in progress.  Preliminary review indicates that the children with autism varied widely in their responses.  Generally, imitative play was better for facilitating social engagement, while free play was more effective at improving play skills. This study expands on previous research and demonstrates the usefulness of imitative play and free play as interventions for young children with autism. 

Faculty Mentor: Amy Matthews


Nicole presented at the Association for Behavior Analysis Autism Conference February 2-4, 2007 in Boston, MA.

Nicole presented at the annual convention of the Association for Behavior Analysis May 24-26, 2007 in San Diego, CA.

Page last modified May 13, 2011