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Keywords:

  • autism;
  • imitation;
  • review;
  • meta-analysis;
  • emulation

Although imitation impairments are often reported in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), previous work has not yet determined whether these impairments are significant, specific to ASD, and present across the entire spectrum. This report of 53 studies on imitation in ASD seeks to determine whether individuals with ASD show significant imitation deficits, the magnitude of these deficits, and whether they are specific to ASD. Using standard meta-analytic techniques in a random-effects model, the data reviewed suggest that individuals with ASD show deficits in imitation, performing on average 0.81 SDs below individuals without ASD on imitation tasks. This deficit was specific to the condition of having ASD. Moderator analyses revealed that the average Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) scores of groups of ASD participants were significantly and strongly negatively associated with the imitation abilities of these subjects, but average participant IQ was not associated with imitation abilities. Study setting, novelty of actions, format of imitation tasks (live vs. not), number of actions to imitate, or verbal prompts were not found to significantly affect the sizes of the imitation differences between individuals with and without ASD. The manner in which imitation was operationalized, however, had significant effects on whether imitation deficits were found between individuals with and without ASD. In tests that measured imitation of both form and end points, participants with ASD showed significant deficits compared with those without ASD; on tests of end point emulation only, individuals with ASD showed no deficits. Autism Res 2014, 7: 363–380. © 2014 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.