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Keywords:

  • autism;
  • ASD;
  • imitation;
  • direct gaze;
  • eye-tracking;
  • eye movements

Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) show a diminished propensity to imitate others' actions, as well as a diminished sensitivity and responsivity to others' communicative cues, such as a direct gaze. However, it is not known whether failure to appreciate the communicative value of a direct gaze is associated with imitation abnormalities in this population. In this eye-tracking study, we investigated how 25 preschoolers with ASD, compared with 25 developmental and chronological age-matched children, imitate actions that are associated with a model's direct gaze versus averted gaze. We found that the model's direct gaze immediately prior to the demonstration increased the attention to the model and the propensity to imitate the demonstrated action in children without ASD. In contrast, preschoolers with ASD showed a similar propensity to look at the model's face and to imitate the demonstrated actions across the direct gaze and the averted gaze conditions. These data indicate that atypical imitation in ASD might be linked to abnormal processing of the model's communicative signals (such as a direct gaze) that modulate imitative behaviours in individuals without ASD. Autism Res 2014, 7: 392–399. © 2014 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.