This study objectively measured associations between children’s peer vocal interactions and assessed language abilities in inclusion classrooms for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their peers. All children benefited from peers talking to them, but children with ASD were less central to classroom speech networks than were typically developing children. Children’s centrality to social speech networks, regardless of ASD status, was associated with assessed language abilities.
Children’s preschool experiences have consequences for development. However, it is not clear how children’s real-time interactions with peers affect their language development; nor is it clear whether these processes differ between children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and two other groups of children, those with general developmental delays (DD) and typically developing (TD) children. We used objective measures of movement and vocalizations to quantify children’s real-time dyadic vocal interactions and quantify classroom social networks. Participants included 56 preschoolers (22 female; M = 50.14 months) in five inclusive classrooms for children with ASD or DD and their TD peers. Each class was observed monthly on two to five occasions. Overall, children vocalized more to peers who had vocalized more to them in the previous observation. These dyadic vocalization patterns were associated with group differences in social network analyses. Modularity, the cohesiveness of group ties, was lower among children with ASD than it was among TD children or children with DD. Individually, children with ASD exhibited lower total levels of vocalizations with peers (lower degree centrality) than TD children and children with DD. In an exploratory analysis with a subset of the participants, children’s degree centrality was strongly associated with their end-of-year assessed language abilities, even when accounting for mean differences between groups. Findings highlight the impact peers and social networks play in real-time language use and in the developing language abilities of children with ASD in inclusion classrooms.
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Fasano, R. M., Perry, L. K., Zhang, Y., Vitale, L., Wang, J., Song, C., & Messinger, D. S. (2021). A granular perspective on inclusion: Objectively measured interactions of preschoolers with and without autism. Autism Research, Vol. 14, Issue 8, May 3, 2021.