A comparison of autistic children's behavior at home and at school



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Ten autistic children were observed at home with their families and in the school setting with their teachers and peers. These children, five boys and five girls, ranged in age from six to fourteen years old and had a mean age of 9.3 years. Each child was observed for five periods of approximately forty minutes each in both settings. The behaviors of each child and those interacting with him/her were recorded using a modified version of the Patterson coding system (Patterson, Ray, Shaw and Cobb, 1969). The behavior of these children was divided into three major behavior categories consisting of Pro-Social, Non-Deviant and Deviant behavior. There was a significant difference in the behavior exhibited by these children at home and at school for the Pro-Social and Deviant behavior categories. Pro-Social behavior occurred more frequently at school and Non-Deviant behavior more often at home. Deviant behavior was exhibited infrequently across both settings, with mean percentages of this behavior being 7% at home and 6% at school. The specific behaviors within the above major behavior categories were analyzed using Pearson's correlations and t-Tests between correlated means. Significant correlations were obtained for two specific behaviors, Self-Stimulation and Work. A positive correlation for Self-Stimulation indicated that the child who exhibits a high frequency of this behavior at home is also relatively high in this behavior at school. Frequency of this behavior remained stable across both settings with the group mean of occurrence for Self-Stimulation being 2.31% at home and 2.00% at school. A negative correlation for Work behavior indicated that the child who ranked low relative to the group at home tended to be relatively high at school for this behavior. However, as a group the children exhibited significantly more Work behavior at school than at home. The mean percentage of Independent Activity exhibited by the children as a group varied significantly from one setting to another, occurring more often at home. The responses of these children's parents and teachers were divided into three major response categories labeled Positive, Neutral and Negative. Parents and teachers used Neutral responses more frequently than either Positive or Negative responses and Negative responses were the least frequent. Comparison of parents' and teachers' patterns of responses indicated no significant differences. There was, however, a consistent tendency for teachers to make a more appropriate choice of Positive and Negative responses in managing the children's behavior. The difference was mainly in the higher use by parents of Positive consequences when the child was behaving in a deviant manner and the relatively higher use of Negative consequences when the child was exhibiting Pro-Social behavior. Analysis of parents' and teachers' specific responses pointed to other differences between parents and teachers. The type of specific responses selected from within the Positive and Negative response categories by teachers tended to be responses which would be more effective in changing the children's behaviors. The Negative responses used by parents were verbal responses but, teachers used physical type consequences, e.g. physical restraint. When using Positive responses, teachers used the Attention response more frequently than parents who used the Play response significantly more often than teachers. Results of this study indicated that the behavior of autistic children varied from setting to setting and that some differences in the manner of managing behavior by parents and teachers may account, at least partially, for such variability in the children's behavior. Considering these results, it appears that programs designed to improve the behavior of autistic children through training parents and teachers have a high probability of success, particularly, if these programs are designed to fit the needs of the child in each setting.