A naturalistic study of autistic children and their families, in the home environment



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The present study investigated the behaviors of 15 autistic children and their families in the home setting. Observers utilized a behavioral coding system which allows one to record 29 "target" child behaviors and 22 behavioral responses from other family members. These codes were collapsed into Deviant, Non-Deviant, and Pro-Social categories for the autistic children and into Positive, Negative, and Neutral categories for the family members' responses. Results suggest that a relatively small percentage of the autistic child's behavior may be classified as deviant; however, the main characteristic is social isolation or a low rate of interaction with other family members. The data also reflect a significant correlation between the children's rate of speech and their rate of Pro-Social behaviors. Assessment of parent behaviors showed parents to be extremely positive in responding to their autistic children. In addition, the mothers had far more interactions with the autistic children, than the fathers. It was noted that of all family members, siblings were most contingent in responding to the target children. Several possible indications of these results are examined. Five factors that might limit the generalizability of the obtained data are also discussed.