Variable Play Enriches Children's Development: An Investigation of Variability in Play Behavior in Children Diagnosed with ASD and Neurotypical Controls

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Collette, Paula
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University Honors College, Middle Tennessee State University
Playing variably contributes to children's social, cognitive, and behavioral development. Variable play behavior can be taught through reinforcement, and children can learn to play variably and repetitively in different contexts. Most neurotypical children learn variable behaviors readily, but individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) tend to behave overly repetitively. Teaching variable behavior can open new doors for people who tend to engage in repetitive actions and can be beneficial in many situations. There is evidence that behavioral variability can be taught using reinforcement, but no direct comparisons have yet been made between children diagnosed with ASD and typically developing children. Throughout the course of the present study, neurotypical children and children with ASD were taught to play repetitively and variably in different contexts. After participants successfully discriminated between the two conditions, their preference for either variable or repetitive play was assessed. Thus far, the data indicate that one neurotypical participant learned to play variably in one context and repetitively in another using reinforcement, variable play behavior can be increased when reinforced with a lag schedule and that discriminative stimuli can control repetitive versus variable play. When given a choice, the same neurotypical participant showed a slight preference for repetitive play sessions. In follow­up research, this preference will be compared to future participants' data to determine if there is a difference in preference for variable or repetitive play between neurotypical children and children with ASD.