Do Children With Autism Re-Enact Object Movements Rather Than Imitate Demonstrator Actions?



It has been suggested that autism-specific imitative deficits may be reduced or even spared in object-related activities. However, most previous research has not sufficiently distinguished object movement reenactment (learning about the ways in which object move) from imitation (learning about the topography of demonstrated actions). Twenty children with autism (CWA) and 20 typically developing children (TDC) were presented with puzzle boxes containing prizes. Test objects and experimental conditions were designed to isolate object- and action-related aspects of demonstrations. There were four types of video demonstrations: (a) a full demonstration by an adult; (b) a ghost demonstration with object movements alone; (c) mimed solutions demonstrated adjacent to the objects; and (d) random actions performed on the surface of the objects. There were no significant between-group differences in the degree to which CWA and TDC matched the full demonstrations, the actual demonstrations or in their times to first solution in any of the conditions. Although there was no clear imitative deficit in the CWA, regression analyses were conducted to explore in more detail whether diagnosis, verbal intelligence quotient (VIQ), nonverbal IQ NVIQ, age or motor coordination predicted performance. The results are discussed in relation to the use of extrinsic vs. intrinsic rewards and the interplay between motor coordination and the relative rigidity vs. pliability of objects. Autism Res 2014, 7: 28–39. © 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.