Studies show that parenting styles influence the lack of development of both social skills and language skills in children. Fetal development is a determining factor in the personality, emotional state and intellectual abilities of each child. Parenting begins in the womb. Pregnancy is a crucial period of parenting and requires a mother’s attention and care for the environment of her unborn child. Parental sensitivity and receptivity are key factors in the training and recovery of children with autism.
Even in utero, neural circuits are taking shape, circuits that will set brain patterns for the rest of our lives. An expectant mother’s play can lower her stress levels and help lessen the discomforts of pregnancy, but that playfulness can also help preform the mind-set of the baby inside her.1
Recent studies focus on the synchronicity of the parents with the child’s focus of attention and ongoing activity suggesting a developmental link between parental sensitivity and the autistic child’s later development of communication skills.
Caregivers of children with autism who showed higher levels of synchronization during initial play interactions had children who developed superior joint attention and language over a period of 1, 10, and 16 years than did children of caregivers who showed lower levels of synchronization initially. These findings suggest a developmental link between parental sensitivity and the child's subsequent development of communication skills in children with autism.
The ability of the mother-child dyad to initiate and maintain episodes of joint engagements has been shown to be predictive for the child's language growth in both typically developing children with developmental delay. 4 (p. 78)
Much of the current literature is focused on maternal responsivity in naturalistic environments. As seen in neuro-typical children, language develops as a result of joint attention which is facilitated by play. During play children encounter opportunities for both social interaction and communication within a context which encourages reciprocity and relationship.
We may think we are helping to prepare our kids for the future when we organize all their time, when we continually ferry them from one adult-organized, adult-regulated activity to another. And, of course, to some degree these activities do promote culturally approved behavior as well as reinforce our roles as “good” parents. But in fact we may be taking from them the time they need to discover for themselves their most vital talents and knowledge. We may be depriving them of access to an inner motivation for an activity that will later blossom into a motive force for life.1 (p. 105)
1 Brown, S. (2009). Play: How it shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. New York, NY: Avery.
4 Siller, M. & Sigman, M. (2002). The Behaviors of Parents of Children with Autism Predict the Subsequent Development of Their Children’s Communication. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 32,77-89.