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Functional play in young children with autism and Williams syndrome: a cross-syndrome comparison

journal contribution
posted on 2022-05-19, 06:52 authored by Peter AJ Fanning, L Sparaci, Cheryl DissanayakeCheryl Dissanayake, Darren HockingDarren Hocking, Giacomo VivantiGiacomo Vivanti
Functional play during early childhood paves the way to symbolic play and social communicative skills. However, functional play is surprisingly understudied in children with developmental disorders affecting social and communicative domains, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Williams syndrome (WS). To address this issue and to evaluate both the quantity and quality of functional play in children with ASD and WS, we examined different play types using fine grained behavioral analysis with a group of age and IQ-matched developmentally delayed children with ASD (n = 14) and WS (n = 14) in comparison with 12 age-matched typically developing (TD) children. Significant differences were found in the quantity of functional play in the ASD and WS groups compared to TD children, with a limited breadth of object exploration found in children with ASD. While TD children engaged more frequently in functional versus nonfunctional play, this was not the case for children with ASD and WS, who showed the same amount of functional and nonfunctional play. Furthermore, functional play behavior was associated with intellectual and adaptive function in children with WS, but not ASD. These results point to the importance of intervention strategies that focus on functional play in improving developmental outcomes for children with ASD and WS.


LS was supported by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No. (660468). DRH was supported by an ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Grant (DE160100042).


Publication Date



Child Neuropsychology






25p. (p. 125-149)


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