Parent-child nonverbal engagement during read versus sung book-sharing in preschoolers with and without ASD

Providing natural opportunities that scaffold interpersonal engagement is important for supporting social interactions for young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Musical activities are often motivating, familiar, and predictable, and may support both children and their interaction partners by providing opportunities for shared social engagement. We assessed multiple facets of nonverbal social engagement—child and caregiver visual attention and interpersonal movement coordination—during musical (song) and non-musical (picture) book-sharing contexts in caregiver–child dyads of preschoolers with (n = 13) and without (n = 16) ASD. Overall, children with ASD demonstrated reduced visual attention during the book sharing activity, as well as reduced movement coordination with their caregivers, compared to children with typical development. Children in both diagnostic groups, as well as caregivers, demonstrated greater visual attention (gaze toward the activity and/or social partner) during song books compared to picture books. Visual attention behavior was correlated between children and caregivers in the ASD group but only in the song book condition. Findings highlight the importance of considering how musical contexts impact the behavior of both partners in the interaction. Musical activities may support social engagement by modulating the behavior of both children and caregivers.