Melinda Cornwell

Developing Leaders Through Graduate Education

Currently in her senior year at Hunter College of the City University of New York




Michael Siller, Ph.D.

Maternal Perceptions of Her Child are Associated with Her Bahavior During the Dyad's Play

Autism is a spectrum of conditions that share the characteristics of being marked by linguistic and social impairment. Outcomes for children growing up with autism are strongly influenced by their ability to develop pragmatic use of language. Joint attention is the phenomenon whereby two people attend a third object or event in a way that is coordinated; that is, their focus is not only concurrent, but is also shared between one another, thus creating a collaborative social interaction. The development of joint attention behavior is thought to play a key role in language acquisition and the emergence of social reciprocity in young children (Mundy, Sigman & Kasari, 1990; Mundy & Crowson, 1997). Because of the social impairments and restricted interests associated with autism (American Psychiatric Association, 2000), establishing joint attention through collaborative play encounters with these children can be extremely difficult; yet, previous studies have shown that such collaborative exchanges are important predictors of language acquisition and social learning (Charman, et al, 2003). Longitudinal research indicates that maternal responsiveness during play reliably predicts subsequent language gains for children with autism (Siller & Sigman 2002; 2008), perhaps because it may foster collaborative exchanges. In this context, maternal responsiveness during play is defined as the coalescence of undemanding language style and behaviors that are synchronized with the child’s ongoing focus of interest. Recent findings suggest that insightful maternal cognitions predict maternal responsiveness; maternal narratives that demonstrate the ability to account for the child’s point-of-view predict greater maternal responsiveness during play than narratives that demonstrate a lack of this ability (Hutman, 2009). Our previous study (Cornwell, et. al., 2009) indicates that expressive language among children with autism is associated with undemanding maternal language that uses specific object labels. The current study has two hypotheses: one, we predict that mothers who are classified as insightful will use higher levels of language that is both undemanding and specific when compared to mothers classified as non-insightful, two we predict that maternal language samples recorded both at home and in the lab will show a consistent pattern of association with maternal insightfulness.