The nature of mother–child interaction in autism and the maternal approach characteristics that elicit social response in children with autism were examined in two studies. Mother–child play sessions of 24 preschool children with autism and 24 typically developing preschoolers were compared in Study 1, and play sessions of 9 mothers with their autistic child and with their nonautistic child were compared in Study 2. Mother–child interactions were coded using the Approach Withdrawal Interaction Coding System to quantify maternal approach behaviors and child responses. Results of Study 1 indicate that, although the quantity of approaches did not differ between mothers with their autistic children and mothers with their nonautistic children, there were qualitative differences. Mothers used more physical contact, more high-intensity behaviors, and fewer social verbal approaches with autistic children. Results of Study 2 replicated these findings with mothers showing a similar pattern of approach toward their autistic children but not their nonautistic children. Although autistic children displayed lower contingency to maternal approaches in general, they showed greater responsiveness to approaches involving increased physical proximity and/or containing nonverbal object use. Mothers socially engaged both autistic and nonautistic children. The implications for parent training and intervention are discussed.
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