Looking or talking: Visual attention and verbal engagement during shared book reading of preschool children on the autism spectrum

Published August 2020
Abstract
Abstract Visual attention and active engagement during shared book reading are important for facilitating emergent literacy learning during the preschool years. Children on the autism spectrum often show difficulties in language and literacy development, yet research investigating potential indicators of shared book reading engagement, including visual attention and verbal engagement, for this group of preschoolers is currently limited. To better understand the relationship between children’s visual attention and verbal engagement during shared book reading, parent shared book reading behaviors, and children’s emergent literacy skills (e.g. receptive vocabulary and letter-name knowledge), we observed 40 preschoolers on the spectrum and their parents sharing an unfamiliar storybook. Videos of the shared book reading interactions were transcribed and coded for child and parent behaviors using observational coding schemes. Strong significant associations were found between children’s visual attention, verbal engagement, and parents’ use of questions and/or prompts during the shared book reading interaction. Contrary to expectations, children’s visual attention was not related to their emergent literacy skills. Overall, our findings emphasize the interplay between parent behaviors and how preschoolers on the spectrum engage in this important literacy-related context and provide directions for future research. Lay abstract Children who have an autism diagnosis often have trouble learning to talk and read. These difficulties become noticeable before children start school and may be linked to lower attention and engagement in literacy-related activities such as sharing storybooks with their parents. To date, few researchers have looked at possible ways to measure how children on the autism spectrum engage during shared storybook reading, for example, where children look or how much they talk, and how this may be related to their letter-name knowledge and their vocabulary knowledge. In this study, we analyzed videos of 40 preschoolers on the spectrum and their parents sharing an unfamiliar storybook. We wanted to see whether where children looked (i.e. toward the storybook, their parent, or elsewhere) and how much they talked were related to what their parents did (e.g. ask questions or provide prompts) and/or children’s letter-name knowledge and vocabulary. The videos were coded for different child and parent behaviors. We found that where children looked and how much they talked were strongly related to each other and what parents did during the shared book reading interaction, particularly asking questions and using prompts. In contrast to what we expected, where children looked was not related to children’s letter or vocabulary knowledge. Overall, results of the study draw attention to the connection between what parents do and what preschoolers on the spectrum do when sharing storybooks and provide directions for future research.
Citation
Wicks, R., Paynter, J. & Westerveld, M. (2020). Looking or talking: Visual attention and verbal engagement during shared book reading of preschool children on the autism spectrum. Autism, 24(6), 1384-1399. doi: 10.1177/1362361319900594

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