Caregiver descriptions of joint activity routines with young children with autism spectrum disorder in South Africa

Pediatr Med. 2019 Mar:2:6. doi: 10.21037/pm.2019.03.04. Epub 2019 Mar 13.


Background: Coaching caregivers to deliver Naturalistic Developmental Behavioral Intervention (NDBI) strategies to their young child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) could help address the provider capacity barrier in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the behavioral and developmental research that underpins NDBIs is overwhelmingly drawn from high resource settings. Therefore, our understanding of joint activity routines, including play and family routines in which NDBI strategies are embedded, may have limited applicability in low resource, culturally diverse environments. Important questions remain on how to adapt NDBIs to be relevant in the family lives in these settings. This study aimed to elicit descriptions of joint activity routines from caregivers of young children with ASD in South Africa, to understand whether an NDBI-informed caregiver coaching could 'fit' within the multicultural, multilingual South African context.

Methods: Four focus groups were conducted with 22 caregivers of young children with ASD who were recruited from the Western Cape Education Department autism waiting list. Data were analyzed through directed content analysis, which uses inductive methods to determine salient themes and subthemes. The predetermined initial coding classifications were based on joint activity routine categories of object-based play, sensory social routines, and family routines.

Results: Participants' descriptions of caregiver-child interactions aligned with a-priori joint activity routine categories. During object-based play, caregivers engaged in turn-taking, taught developmental skills (for example cognitive, language, and fine motor skills), and participated in child-directed activities. During sensory social routines, caregivers described active, physical play, awareness of child affect, increased child expressive language, and willingness to engage with different play partners. During family routines, caregivers detailed child participation in mealtime and bath time.

Conclusions: These data suggest that South African caregivers of young children with ASD use joint activity routines to engage their children and teach them new skills, thus suggesting a degree of 'fit' between South African caregiver-child interactions and an NDBI-informed caregiver coaching approach. However, more information on family routines and which caregiver interacts with the young child with ASD during these routines would help tailor these interventions for low-resource African settings.

Keywords: Autism; South Africa; autism spectrum disorder (ASD); early intervention.