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Child Development Research
Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 296039, 10 pages
Research Article

Naturalistic Observations of Nonverbal Children with Autism: A Study of Intentional Communicative Acts in the Classroom

1Department of Psychology, University of Chester, Parkgate Road, Chester CH1 4BJ, UK
2School of Psychology, University of East Anglia, Norwich Research Park, Elizabeth Fry Building 1.10, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK

Received 20 March 2013; Revised 9 June 2013; Accepted 11 June 2013

Academic Editor: Cheryl Dissanayake

Copyright © 2013 Samantha Drain and Paul E. Engelhardt. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


We examined evoked and spontaneous communicative acts in six nonverbal children with autism (10–15 years, M = 12.8, SD = 2.1). All participants attended the same special school for children with autism but were in different classes. Each was observed for 30 minutes during a typical school day. An observer coded the presence/absence of an antecedent, the form and function of the communicative act, and the teacher’s response to the child. One hundred and fifty-five communicative acts were observed, 41% were spontaneous and 59% were evoked. The main antecedents to evoked communicative acts were verbal prompts, and most of the evoked communicative acts were physical in nature (i.e., motor acts and gestures). However, verbalizations and the use of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) were higher for spontaneous communicative acts. The functions of spontaneous communicative acts were primarily requests. Results showed a substantial number of “nonresponses” from teachers, even following evoked communicative acts. These results suggest that teachers may not actively promote intentional communication as much as possible. Therefore, our findings provide information concerning ways in which educators could facilitate intentional communication in non-verbal children with autism.