Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Patricia Meinhold


Children diagnosed with Autistic Disorder have well documented deficits in the development of pretend play. When it occurs, spontaneous pretend play differs from play seen in other children in frequency, duration, and quality. The present study examined the effects of teaching preschoolers with Autism to follow one-part directions to play during discrete trial receptive language training sessions on spontaneous play skills.

Receptive language tasks were designed to teach simple pretend play skills (e.g., "Feed the doll with a spoon"). Spontaneous play was continuously sampled during free play sessions in the clinic and in the child's home before these receptive tasks were introduced and while they were taught. Subjects were boys between two-and-a-half and five years of age. Each had been diagnosed with Autistic Disorder by an independent evaluator and all were enrolled in a treatment program that employed discrete trial therapy methods. The receptive language task was introduced in a multiple baseline across subjects design. Duration measures of pretend play were taken from videotaped samples of free play sessions.

Participants varied in terms of the rate at which they acquired the play skills during receptive language tasks. All children learned to respond consistently to at least one play direction. The results of the intervention on spontaneous play varied across subjects as well. One subject generalized several functional play activities to free-play sessions in both generalization settings, three subjects showed no clear intervention effects, and one showed a decrease in appropriate play following the intervention. Possible reasons for the variability across subjects and suggestions for improving methods of teaching pretend play are discussed.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access