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Children With Autism and the Importance of Interaction, Play and Emotion

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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is clinically defined by abnormalities in reciprocal social and communicative behaviors and an inflexible adherence to routinised patterns of thought and behavior. Laboratory studies repeatedly demonstrate that autistic individuals experience difficulties in recognizing and understanding the emotional expressions of others and naturalistic observations show that they use such expressions infrequently and inappropriately to regulate social exchanges. Dominant theories attribute this facet of the ASD phenotype to abnormalities in a social brain network that mediates social-motivational and social-cognitive processes such as face processing, mental state understanding, and empathy.

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Children approach play in different ways based on different motivations and dispositions. These motivations and dispositions form the subject’s attitude during play, also known as playfulness

Skard and Bundy proposed a model of playfulness that identifies four primary characteristics of play. The first characteristic is framing, which refers to behaviors used during play that identify the nature of the activity as play. Players give framing cues to others, and good players must be able to give and read cues. The second characteristic of play is that it is intrinsically motivated. This means that players engage in the play activity because they enjoy the activity and experience benefits as a result. The third characteristic of play is internal control; this characteristic allows players to decide what they want to play, who they want to play with, and how and when the play should end. The fourth and final characteristic is freedom to suspend reality, which determines how closely a play transaction resembles the objective reality. Different strategies are employed to facilitate the suspension of reality. A player can pretend that he is someone else or that an object is something other than what it really is (e.g., pretends to be a chef; pretends that a box is an airplane). Players can also suspend reality by teasing or telling jokes. According to Skard and Bundy’s model, a child’s level of playfulness is determined by the summation of all the aforementioned characteristics. Evidence indicates that playfulness can differ among children with various developmental challenges. Playfulness in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is affected by behaviors inherently related to their condition; children with ASD tend to be less playful than their typically developing counterparts. Behavioral challenges for play in children with ASD include fixed interests, lack of flexibility, impaired social skills, engagement in ritual repetitive behaviors, low levels of pretend play, anger or frustration, hyper- or hyposensitivities, and difficulty understanding nonverbal cues. Prior to in-depth examination of the excerpts as they relate to the research questions, it is pertinent to contextualize participants’ perspectives about play experiences with their children. In general, parents’ play experiences were defined by codes related to emotions regarding play, relevance of play as part of a routine, and awareness of the child’s diagnosis. All participants expressed positive emotions related to play experiences with their children. Satisfaction, happiness, and trust were among the most frequently expressed emotions.

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Children who are suffering from moderate to severe forms of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are oftentimes caught in a vicious circle: their difficulties acquiring social skills deprive them of further opportunities to develop these skills. Over the past few decades, many researchers have aimed to increase therapeutic benefits for these children (for a review, see Walton and Ingersoll, 2013). The question remains how to approach the complications that arise in real-time social interactions between children with ASD and their surroundings and how to minimize cumulative negative effects on social development. ASD is a class of neurodevelopmental disorders where children typically experience socio-emotional difficulties when interacting and communicating with others (American Psychiatric Association, 2013; Yenkoyan et al., 2017; Sharma et al., 2018). The common approach of linear modeling cannot capture the reciprocal and iterative causal influences characteristic of these ongoing interactions—including those between a child and its caregiver. A growing number of researchers advocate the application of non-linear dynamics (“the complexity approach”) to social and developmental psychology (e.g., Schlesinger and Parisi, 2001). In particular, agent-based models have been successfully employed to translate psychological theory into specific mechanisms of action for the agents in question. These models can be directly compared with the target system to directly test their plausibility. As such, agent-based modeling is a crucial tool that connects psychological theories to complex real-life examples. This research allows us to demonstrate how dynamical interactions between a child and its caregiver help to understand the idiosyncratic phenomenology associated with ASD

Besides observational validation, the plausibility of agent-based models like SECONDS also hinges on the theoretical considerations motivating the constituent components and their connections. The methodological considerations underlying the validation of dynamical models forms a recurrent theme throughout this article. The criteria for model validation in process-oriented dynamical modeling approaches differ significantly from those of standardized statistical methods and verbal theorizing typical in the field of developmental psychology. Given that our core goal in conducting this research has been to translate from theory to practice, the concept of plausible representation and other methodological concepts associated with model-validation in dynamic systems modeling are unpacked in sections 2 and 4, with a special focus on our particular application in developmental psychology.

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All things considered, autistic children can find it difficult to understand how others may be feeling and that their beliefs, interests and experiences may be different to their own

This is where a lot of children can face conflict and where inappropriate behaviours begin. Many autistic people can struggle with others coming to different conclusions or 'agreeing to disagree'. It may not be possible to teach your child to actually understand another person's point of view – the main goal early on is to get them to recognise that it may just be different and accept that. You could do this by asking your child to compare a picture of a sibling or other family member with themselves and talking about how the two are different. You can discuss the physical differences then gradually move on to more abstract differences in line with how much the child understands.

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Walton, K. M., and Ingersoll, B. R. (2013). Improving social skills in adolescents and adults with autism and severe to profound intellectual disability: a review of the literature. J. Autism Dev. Disord. 43, 594–615. doi: 10.1007/s10803-012-1601-1

Yenkoyan, K., Grigoryan, A., Fereshetyan, K., and Yepremyan, D. (2017). Advances in understanding the pathophysiology of autism spectrum disorders. Behav. Brain Res. 331, 92–101. doi: 10.1016/J.BBR.2017.04.038

Sharma, S. R., Gonda, X., and Tarazi, F. I. (2018). Autism spectrum disorder: classification, diagnosis and therapy. Pharmacol. Ther. 190, 91–104. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2018.05.007

Schlesinger, M., and Parisi, D. (2001). The agent-based approach: a new direction for computational models of development. Dev. Rev. 21, 121–146. doi: 10.1006/drev.2000.0520

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