Preferred Play Activities of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Naturalistic Settings [Abstract]

July 25, 2013

[N A J Med Sci. 2013;6(3):128-133. DOI: 10.7156/najms.2013.0603128] PDF File

Kathy Ralabate Doody, PhD;* Jana Mertz, MBA

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are lifelong,  neurobehavioral disorders that impact behavioral, social and communication skills.  Introducing and designing appropriate play opportunities for children with ASD is of primary  concern for educators, clinicians, and parents. The researchers set out to research the types  of play most often preferred by children with autism spectrum disorders. Data collected in  a children’s museum over a six month period resulted in a sample size of 1,506 observations  for children with ASD Data for the six months were aggregated for each of 20 different exhibits.  Each of the top five exhibits preferred by children with ASD provided strong and distinct  sensory feedback and featured cause/effect results or repetitive motions. Conversely,  the five least popular exhibits for children with ASD were pretend play activities,  and play activities which focused on arts/crafts. At a 95% confidence interval,  eleven of the twenty exhibits showed a statistically significant difference for children  with ASD than would be expected by a normal distribution. Of those eleven, six were preferred  less than the expected average and five were preferred more than the expected average.  Preliminary results of this research study support the researchers’ hypotheses that children  with ASD prefer play activities with a strong sensory component and are far less likely to  engage in activities involving pretend play. 

Key Words: autism, autism  spectrum disorder, ASD, play preferences 


Kathy Ralabate Doody, PhD;1* Jana Mertz, MBA2

1 Exceptional Education, State University of New York, Buffalo, NY
2 Autism Spectrum Disorder Center. Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo, Buffalo,  NY

*Corresponding Author: Assistant  Professor, Exceptional Education, State University of New York, Buffalo State, 1300 Elmwood  Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14222. Tel: 716-864-8286.




The authors wish to thank the Museum administrators  and employees, as well as the parents and children who attended Au-Some Evenings.  Their effort and participation made this study possible. We also wish to extend heartfelt  thanks to State University of New York, Buffalo State’s teacher candidates who volunteered  their time and enthusiasm, and Dr. Angela L. Patti, Professor, Exceptional Education,  for her support, guidance, and participation during the Au-Some Evenings. Additionally,  the authors wish to thank Dr. Changxing Ma, State University of New York at Buffalo,  for his assistance and analysis of the data collected in this study. 

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