Imitative interaction increases social interest and elicited imitation in non-verbal children with autism



Recent studies indicate that being intensely imitated for a brief period of time increases social interest among children with autism. The aim of this study was to replicate and extend these findings. Twenty children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were randomly assigned to one of two interaction strategies: imitation (n=10) or contingent (n=10). The children had little or no functional speech, and their developmental age averaged 25 months (mean chronological age =6:5 years). Both conditions were presented with repeated sessions of a modified version of Nadel's ‘still-face’ paradigm (still-face/intervention/still-face/spontaneous play). The analysis revealed a significant increase of both proximal and distal social behaviours (touch and look at person) for the imitation condition, which confirms previous reports. In addition, an increase in elicited imitation, as measured with the PEP-R developmental assessment procedure, was also observed for children in the imitation condition, but not in the contingent condition. This finding extends earlier reports in that it suggests that the social expectancies unlocked by imitation also spread to tasks outside the experimental setting. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.