Invitation to Play Reduces Playground Stress in Autistic Children

A new study led by Vanderbilt University Professor of Psychiatry, Blyth Corbett, PhD is looking at how children with autism interact with children who are not on the spectrum, particularly on the playground. Playgrounds can be a great opportunity for children to have fun and make friends, but for many children on the autism spectrum, they can also be a source of stress and anxiety.

Corbett explained the purpose of the study is to, “Better understand what things help (children with Autism Spectrum Disorders) interact, but also what things are getting in the way of being able to play with others.”

Researchers measured stress levels of the children participating in the playground study by testing cortisol levels in saliva samples. Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stress.

By measuring their cortisol levels and observing the children’s behavior, the study found that often, all it took for the children with ASD to join in playground games without a spike in their stress hormones was a simple invitation to play. Corbett says an invitation from a peer, “can significantly improve their willingness to engage with others.”

The study concludes that it is vitally important to bring children with autism and their typically-developing peers together in social situations. It also reveals a simple key to teaching children with ASD that it is safe to interact with others – an invitation.

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