Investigation of the ways in which non-speaking children on the autism spectrum play and communicate with each other when playing with toys or iPads in Bangladesh
Nasir Bhuiyan, Kiyoshi
The focus of this thesis is on social communication and interaction between children on the autism spectrum in Bangladesh. Building upon recent research on social communication and play between children on the autism spectrum using technology, this thesis uses publicly available apps and toys to investigate the forms of social communication and play behaviours that non-speaking children on the autism spectrum engage in. The studies described below also examine the affordances which enable social communication when playing with toys or iPad games. The thesis uses a participatory design approach where the choices of both the apps and toys were dependent upon the children’s abilities and preferences. Study 1 describes a pilot study examining the forms of social communication and play behaviour during which the children engage in an open pay session with toys or iPad apps. A modified version of Parten’s classic social communication scale was used to examine social communication and play when the children are playing with toys. The results showed that parallel play occurred for longer than any other form of play during the sessions. A qualitative grounded theory approach was used to derive a new coding scheme to examine and analyse play and social communication when children were provided with individual iPads. The resultant coding scheme was used in study 2. Study 2, based on dyads, investigated the extent to which different types of games were associated with play and social communication between children on the autism spectrum. The games differed according to the mechanics of the games (passive and clicks, drag and drop and creative). Correlational Analysis was also run to examine the relationship between the children’s social skills and the social communication and play behaviour exhibited by the children. A further qualitative multimodal approach was used to examine the affordances of the iPad which allowed for the different types of social communication between children. The results highlighted the importance of the physical position of the child in relation to others in promoting social communication behaviours between the children. The results also confirmed findings from earlier research showing that children on the autism spectrum are more likely to engage in less complex forms of social communication and play like onlooker behaviour. In all the sessions, the children were more likely to engage with the iPad than performing repeated actions and behaviours. No significant relationship between the behaviours and the children’s ability or the different app types were found. The multimodal analysis revealed that the app mechanics like auditory and visual prompts afforded for the children to engage in social communication behaviour like imitative behaviours or expressing curiosity in the other children’s activities. Study 3 followed the same analyses as Study 2 but instead of iPad games, the children were given three different types of toys. An adapted coding scheme based on Parten and Rueben’s play observation scale was used to code the data. Like Study 2, duration of play and social communication behaviours, a relationship between the children’s social skills and the behaviours coded and finally a multimodal analysis of the affordances of the toys were all included in the analysis. The results revealed that play behaviour differed significantly depending on the types of toys they were playing with, where both the trainset and the dress up dolls were preferred over the soft toy dog. Overall, the children were also more likely to engage in parallel play than solitary, cooperative or disengage from that task. When comparing sessions, it was found that parallel play occurred for the longest time when the children were playing with the train set, followed by the dress up dolls and finally the soft toy. The results showed that Onlooker behaviour occurred for the longest time when both children were playing next to each other. No significant relationship was found between the children’s abilities and the behaviours. The multimodal analysis revealed the importance of the type of toy and which behaviours were most likely to occur when playing with each toy. Specifically, the analysis showed the importance of having a variety of different objects that the children could pick and share, which explains the lack of engagement with the soft dog toy since there was only one of them. The qualitative examination also showed that it is only when both children understand and share goals that cooperative play can occur between them. This thesis provides evidence for the different ways in which non-speaking children on the autism spectrum in Bangladesh interact with toys and iPad apps. Implications of the thesis include the importance of examining the mechanics of apps and toys and what type of social communication behaviours they provide affordances for. The difference between toys and iPads are discussed, particularly focussing on the findings that toys enable some cooperation and the ability to share and borrow from the other children, whereas the iPad seems to make the children more curious and eager to imitate actions they are observing. The findings of the thesis demonstrate the different ways in which a non-speaking child on the autism spectrum communicates and the importance of the position of the child in relation to another to promote communication and play in an open play session. Finally, the thesis provides further evidence of the need to only choose toys and digital games depending upon the abilities of individuals on the autism spectrum and consider their interests when recruiting them into research.