Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Sciences and Disorders

Document Type



A child’s play is facilitative of language development, creating a situation where words are needed to speak to and for toy characters, socially engage with peers, and develop play narratives. Children with language disorders, in particular autism spectrum disorder, often fail to engage in play activities at levels of their typically developing peers. However, under highly structured conditions, or scaffolded conditions, children with autism have demonstrated the ability to engage in play at similar levels as their typically developing peers. It remains unclear whether direct teaching of play under scaffolded conditions will predict language skills over time for this population.

The purpose of this study was to examine the play of children with autism spectrum disorder under independent and scaffolded play conditions to determine if the highest level of play under scaffolded conditions could be used to predict language emerging within three months. It was hypothesized that children demonstrating a higher level of play under scaffolded conditions would make greater gains in language. To investigate this relationship, language and play measures, including standardized assessments and questionnaires, were utilized in this prospective study to predict change in language abilities.

The results of this investigation showed that the difference between the levels of independent versus scaffolded play was not a significant predictor of gains in language abilities of children with autism after three months. However, these results add to the existing literature by providing support for the use of language interventions that teach new skills within a child’s ZPD to build, maintain, and generalize learned skills. Clinical implications and directions for future research are discussed.



Committee Chair

Norris, Janet



Available for download on Wednesday, October 22, 2025