Child’s Play May Improve Language Skills

Autism therapy to train preschool play skills may improve language skills

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Children with autism may have difficulty learning language. As autism is detected in ever younger children, interventions may help to improve language learning.

A recent study provided training in play skills and directing attention to preschool children with autism.

Five years later, those children who learned certain play skills while in preschool had better language skills.

"Ask your child’s psychologist about autism programs in your area."

Researchers, led by Connie Kasari, PhD, of the Center for Autism Research and Treatment at the University of California in Los Angeles, enrolled 40 children in the study when they were in preschool, aged 3 or 4 years old.

The children attended preschool for 30 hours per week. Training included play skills, sharing with others and directing the attention of others through pointing.

These behaviors and skills in preschoolers are thought to be important for early non-verbal communication, which may have an influence on language later in life.

At the beginning of the study and five years later, the researchers assessed the children for language, cognitive ability and social skills. They also looked at the ability of the child to initiate social interactions with adults, the type of play the child engaged in and the quality of parent interactions.

At age 8 or 9, five years after the preschool training, 80 percent of the children had functional language skills. Children who started the program at an earlier age had better language skills at age 8.

Children who learned to direct attention through pointing while in the program also had better language skills at age 8. Children who learned to have more variety in their play at age 3 or 4 had better cognitive abilities at age 8.

The authors concluded that this intervention providing an early focus on play and social skills can have helpful effects on language development in the long term. Learning to communicate through play may help children learn to communicate in other ways as they grow - like through language.

This program was designed to address specific play skills in preschool-aged children. Some available autism interventions address joint play and directed attention, like the Early Start Denver Model and Pivotal Response Treatment.

The study was published in the May issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The research was funded by the Collaborative Program of Excellence in Autism, Autism Centers of Excellence, and Health Resources and Services Administration.

Authors on this paper report financial affiliations with Autism Speaks.

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Review Date: 
July 5, 2012
Last Updated:
December 21, 2012