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An Exploration of Imitation Recognition in Young Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders



The ability to recognize when one is being imitated has been hypothesized to be an important developmental process related to the emergence of more advanced social-cognitive skills. While a series of behaviors indicating progressively more mature imitation recognition (IR) skills has been assessed in typically developing children, empirical work with children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) has largely focused on basic social responses to an imitative adult (e.g. increases in eye contact). Limited work has explored more mature IR behaviors in this population. This study compared the degree to which children with ASD engage in different behaviors thought to be indicative of IR during a naturalistic imitation task and the relationship between different types of IR behaviors and social-cognitive skills (i.e. imitation, language, social reciprocity, and joint attention). Thirty children with ASD were administered standardized measures of cognitive level, language, joint attention, social reciprocity, and imitation. IR behaviors were observed during periods of contingent imitation by an adult. Participants engaged more frequently in less mature (e.g. looking at the experimenter's toy or face) than more mature IR behaviors (e.g. testing the experimenter's intent to imitate). After controlling for developmental level, social reciprocity, object imitation, and gesture imitation were positively correlated with more mature IR. These findings suggest that the development of more mature IR skills is related to the development of other social-cognitive skills in children with ASD and provide additional empirical support for reports of more mature IR observed in this population. Autism Res 2013, ●●: ●●●●. © 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.