The Development of Pretend Play in Autism

Christopher Jarrold and Carmel Conn

in The Oxford Handbook of the Development of Play

Published in print December 2010 | ISBN: 9780195393002
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

The Development of Pretend Play in Autism

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  • Developmental Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology



Individuals with autism tend to produce much less pretense in free play contexts than one would expect, and understanding the reason for this deficit has implications for theories of pretend play in general. A particularly influential account (Leslie, 1987) suggests that problems in pretense in autism result from deficits in theory of mind that are known to be associated with the condition, thereby drawing a link between the representational processes involved in pretend play and theory of mind. Here we review evidence that suggests that the deficits in pretend play seen in autism are not as marked as this account would predict. Instead, problems in producing creative pretend play might result from executive difficulties in the control of behavior or might reflect the fact that play behavior in autism develops in an atypical sociocultural context. These suggestions are more consistent with theoretical accounts that emphasize the gradual development of pretend play skills in childhood. However, a remaining question is whether the pretend play that one observes on occasions among individuals with autism is associated with the same motivation, playfulness, and symbolism as is pretend play in typically developing children.

Keywords: Keywords; Autism; pretend play; metarepresentation; theory of mind; executive dysfunction; sociocultural context

Article.  10981 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Developmental Psychology ; Clinical Psychology

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