Verbal Responsiveness and Children with Autism

verbal responsiveness

I recently read an interesting article titled Fathers and Mothers Verbal Responsiveness and the Language Skills of Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder by Michelle Flippin and Linda R. Watson. This article examined the interactions of 16 young children with Autism and their parents and investigated the differences in verbal responsiveness used by fathers and mothers in the interactions with their children. The children were aged 40-69 months, had a diagnosis of Autism and did not have any significant motor or sensory deficits. I found the findings interesting and I thought they could be helpful for families whose children are diagnosed with Autism.

What is parent responsiveness? It is simply the way the parent responds to their child’s ability to communicate and play. Parent verbal responsiveness is the “parents actual verbal input that follows the child lead and map the child’s focus of attention” (Flippin & Watson, 2015). For example, if a child is listening to a story and points to the picture of the truck and says “truck”. A parents verbal response can be “You pointed to a truck” or “We saw a truck on the street today”.

questionsHow does a father communicate differently then a mother? According to this article, the authors discussed how fathers:

1. Use a higher level of syntax and vocabulary

2. Use more attention getting utterances when interacting with their child

3. More likely to direct questions versus yes/no questions that mothers often ask

4. Use less prompts than mothers

These were the results of the study when looking at the difference between fathers and mothers and their verbal responsiveness with their children:

1. Children used more touch leads with their mothers than fathers (e.g. when the child takes the lead and looks and touches a toy). This occurred more with mothers because many fathers redirected children versus following their lead. When the child was redirected, the verbal responsiveness wasn’t coded.

2. Mothers used more responsive verbal acts than fathers and were overall more responsive than fathers.

3. The children in the study showed stronger language skills when both fathers and mothers used more responsive verbal utterances.

The text Helpful Tips appearing behind torn brown paper.

  1. Use verbal responsiveness during play and mealtime!
  2. Work with your spouse and respect each other’s interaction style. Each interaction style can benefit a child with Autism in different ways that can be positive.
  3. Combine using direct questions and yes/no questions.
  4. Use more complex syntax and language when appropriate.
  5. Monitor prompts! More is not always better. Check out my article about prompts at Friendship Circle of Michigan here.



Flippin, Michelle, and Linda R. Watson. “Fathers’ and Mothers’ Verbal Responsiveness and the Language Skills of Young Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Fathers’ and Mothers’ Verbal Responsiveness and the Language Skills of Young Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder. American Journal of Speech Language Pathology, n.d. Web. 19 Aug. 2015. <>.


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