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Play May Be More Stressful for Children With Autism
Children with autism appear to approach play differently than typically developing children, a recent study contends.
“Children with autism lack a social component to their play and don’t adjust their play accordingly when another is involved,” said study co-author Blythe Corbett, an associate professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. “For example, they tend to interact less with other children and show a preference to play alone or nearby with objects even when other children are near,” she said.
In the new study, researchers conducted a series of experiments with 42 children, ages 8-12, who either had an autism spectrum disorder or were typically developing. The investigators collected samples of cortisol, a stress hormone, from the children’s saliva before and after playing on the playground with another child.
“The arousal level of the children with autism during play suggests that interaction with peers can be quite stressful,” Corbett said. “In this study, we also found a relationship between brain activity during play, behavior and stress level.”
Corbett said that the play of children with autism tends to be more repetitive and more focused on computers, videos and technology than on engagement with other children.
For children with autism, some social-skills programs with peers might help increase interest in social play while reducing stress, she suggested. “Parents can provide opportunities for children with autism spectrum disorders to play with positive, supportive peers to enhance their interest, motivation and aptitude to play with others,” Corbett said. “It may help to reduce the amount of computer use and play with videos.” The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more information about autism.
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