A Comparison of Maternal and Clinician Perception of Communication in Autistic Toddlers

Yael S. Stern*, Jordan Lee, Rachel Levy, Alana Glickman, Jeffrey Grauzer, Aaron J. Kaat, Megan Y. Roberts

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Parent instruction in communication facilitation strategies for autistic toddlers relies on assumptions that parents interpret child behaviors in align-ment with clinician definitions of communication. The purpose of this study was to identify features of child behaviors that are predictive of alignment in identifi-cation of child communication between clinical researchers and mothers of young autistic children. Method: Participants were 33 mothers and their autistic children between 18 and 48 months of age. Mothers’ and clinical researchers’ perceptions of child communication were assessed using a procedure in which mothers and clinical researchers each independently identified child communication in the same ten 1-min video clips of each mother’s child. Endorsed communicative acts were coded for the presence of conventional forms (e.g., vocalization) and potentially communicative forms (e.g., body movement). Multilevel binomial regressions, fit with Bayesian inference, were conducted to predict classification of maternal endorsements of child communication based on the presence of conventional and potentially communicative forms as either an aligned act (i.e., act endorsed by mother and clinical researcher as communicative) or a unique maternal endorsement (i.e., act endorsed by mother but not clinical researcher). Results: The presence of vocalization, verbalization, and gesture each signifi-cantly predicted increased likelihood of alignment; the presence of eye contact did not. Although repetitive and sensory behaviors significantly increased the likelihood of unique maternal endorsement, affect shifts and body movements each significantly reduced the likelihood of unique maternal endorsement, and hand activity was not significantly predictive of unique maternal endorsement. Conclusions: Misalignment in mothers’ and clinical researchers’ identification of communication may be in part due to mothers’ endorsement of behavioral forms that are not traditionally classified as part of a child’s communication rep-ertoire. Findings emphasize the need to work toward designing communication interventions that consider the ways in which clinicians and parents of autistic children each bring their own interpretive frameworks to the early intervention experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2064-2078
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Speech and Hearing
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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