Background: Children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are generally included with typically developing peers at school. They have difficulties interacting with peers on the school playground. Previous literature suggests that having play dates in the home may be related to better peer acceptance at school.
Methods: This study examines the relationship between mother-reported play date frequency and amount of conflict, and peer interaction observed on the school playground for a sample of 27 boys and 4 girls meeting structured interview and observation criteria for ASD. Measures of intellectual functioning, adaptive behavior, and social skills were included in a stepwise regression analysis to account for their impact on relationships between maternal play date reports, general peer acceptance at school (as rated by the child’s teacher) and observations of school playground behavior.
Results: Results revealed that children with autism spectrum disorders who had more play dates in their home tended to spend a greater amount of time engaged in behaviors such as mutual offering of objects, conversing and other turn-taking activities with peers on the school playground. They also received more positive responses to their overtures from peers. These relationships remained highly significant even after accounting for other demographic, general social, and cognitive variables.
Conclusions: The present results suggest that play date frequency is strongly related to school playground behavior. Owing to the design of this study, future research must assess whether play dates in the home promote better peer relationships on the playground or the reverse. In either case, the assessment of play dates, as well as observation of spontaneous unsupervised social interactions, are important outcome measures to consider in social skills interventions for children with high-functioning ASD.