Interactions of fathers and their children with autism1
The aim of the present study was to compare the activity of fathers and their children with autism with those of children with Down syndrome, and normally developing children during the father-child interaction. Participants were 14 children with autism and their fathers, 15 children with Down syndrome and their fathers, and 16 normally developing children and their fathers. The age of subjects was between 3.0 and 6.0 years old. The study consisted of one 15-minute free-play session in the father-child diad, taking place in the experiment room. Differences between the groups of fathers were found in terms of three variables under analysis: frequency of looking at the child, physical contact with the child and suggesting play. Children with autism brought objects to their fathers or pointed out objects and directed their fathers' attention by vocalising less frequently than children with Down syndrome and normally developing children. Moreover, children with autism exhibited the fewest vocalisations combined with looking at the father and exhibited many more behaviours involving running and moving about the room than normally developing children. Self-stimulating behaviours were the most frequent in children with autism, with no differences in that respect found between children with Down syndrome and normally developing children. The analysis of fathers' behaviour demonstrates that fathers of children with developmental disorders focus on observing their children and attempt to keep close contact with them to a larger extent than fathers of normally developing children. The pattern of differences in the activity of fathers of children with autism and children with Down syndrome does not paint a clear picture. In general, fathers from both groups actively sought to maintain contact with their children. Differences in the activity during play between children with autism and the other subjects in the study are consistent with the clinical features of autism.