Over-imitation in children with autism and Down syndrome


Department of Psychology, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Brisbane, Qld 4072, Australia, nielsen@psy.uq.edu.au


Typically developing children have been shown to imitate the specific means used by an adult to achieve an object-directed outcome, even if a more efficient method is available. It has been argued that this behaviour can be attributed to social and communicative motivations. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), relative to children with Down syndrome (DS), show a reduced tendency to copy the exact means used by an adult to produce a novel outcome. To achieve this a sample of 34 children (22 with ASD and 12 with DS) were given a test of object-directed imitation. Contrary to expectation, children in both groups imitated the specific method of the model to the same high extent. This finding is in line with suggestions that object-directed imitation is relatively spared in children with autism but is surprising given arguments linking such imitation to socially based motivations. Nevertheless, children's ability to successfully copy the model was associated with their communicative ability, providing some support for the link between imitation and communication.