Research Platform
Issue Date: August 2016
Published Online: August 01, 2016
Updated: January 01, 2021
Enjoyment of Leisure Activities Experienced by Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders
Author Affiliations
  • University of Texas Medical Branch
  • University of Texas Medical Branch
  • University of Texas Medical Branch
Article Information
Autism/Autism Spectrum Disorder / Pediatric Evaluation and Intervention / Basic Research
Research Platform   |   August 01, 2016
Enjoyment of Leisure Activities Experienced by Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, August 2016, Vol. 70, 7011505095.
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, August 2016, Vol. 70, 7011505095.

Date Presented 4/10/2016

The enjoyment experienced during engagement in certain leisure activities is not consistent between typically developing children and those with autism spectrum disorder. This paper describes research findings about those differences and their implications for treatment.

Primary Author and Speaker: Claudia Hilton

Additional Authors and Speakers: Megan Eversole, Diane Collins

RESEARCH QUESTIONS: What are the patterns of leisure activity enjoyment for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) compared with those of typically developing (TD) children? How do patterns of leisure activity enjoyment compare across age groups between TD children and those with ASD? What is the relationship between severity and leisure activity enjoyment in children with ASD?
RATIONALE: Activity enjoyment is a fundamental component of participation in activities. The use of child-preferred activities has long been used to promote social participation among children with ASD.
DESIGN: We used a case-control comparison research design to compare activity enjoyment between children with ASD and TD children.
PARTICIPANTS: Participants consisted of 131 children (ASD = 67, TD = 64) between the ages 6 and 13 yr recruited through parent and professional contacts known by the principal investigator and through parent support group meetings, group email lists, newsletters for parents of children with ASD, and flyers about the study posted at sites of service providers for children with ASD.
METHOD: This study used the Children’s Assessment of Participation and Enjoyment (King et al., 2004), a child interview, to compare levels of leisure activity enjoyment. The Social Responsiveness Scale, 2nd Edition (SRS–2), a parent questionnaire, is a quantitative measure of traits associated with autism and was used to quantify autism severity.
ANALYSIS: A within-group comparison of activity enjoyment for children with ASD was completed using descriptive statistics to rank sum activity enjoyment for each of the 55 specific activities. A Pearson product–moment correlation coefficient was used to identify enjoyment of any of the activity categories that were correlated with SRS–2 scores for the children with ASD. Differences in activity enjoyment were compared by age group using an analyses of variance to compare age groups in the TD children and those with ASD.
RESULTS: The TD children enjoyed formal activities and physical activities significantly more than the children with ASD. Symptom severity was negatively related to enjoyment of overall activities, formal activities, physical and social activities in children with ASD. Older children with ASD enjoyed overall, informal, recreational, and self-improvement activities significantly less than younger children, but no differences were seen across age groups in TD children. Most notable among specific activities was that children with ASD enjoyed swimming significantly more than the TD children.
DISCUSSION: Differences in levels of enjoyment experienced by children with and without ASD can probably be attributed to the motor impairment experienced by many children with ASD. Activity categories that have significant correlations with severity can similarly be explained by social and motor difficulties among children with ASD. Findings of less enjoyment of activities among the older study participants with ASD is concerning, suggesting a pattern of decreasing enjoyment of activities as these children age.
IMPACT STATEMENT: Having a better understanding of preferred activities among children with ASD can help to better prepare professionals regarding potential motivators for participation in interventions and in less preferred activities. Using child-preferred activities has been shown to be a valuable motivator for many activities that are less participated in and less preferred among children with ASD.