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Behavioural Neurology
Volume 5, Issue 4, Pages 219-227

Imitation in Autism. A Preliminary Research Note

M. Heimann,1 E. Ullstadius,1 S.-O. Dahlgren,1 and C. Gillberg2

1Department of Psychology, University of Göteborg, Sweden
2Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Göteborg, Sweden

Copyright © 1992 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Previous studies have claimed that children with autism are poor imitators and a lack of imitative capacity has been included by some investigators as one early sign of autism. Presented here are results from a pilot study focusing on observed imitation after presenting 15 tasks to five children with autism (mental age 25–51 months). Imitation tasks involving simple object manipulation, vocal responses, facial and manual gestures, and object substitution were presented to each child. The performance of the children with autism is compared with (1) three normal 4-year-old children (for all 15 tasks), and (2) observations from 28 healthy 1-year-olds (for 10 of the tasks used). The findings indicate that the autistic group displayed the highest level of imitation on object manipulation and vocal tasks while object substitution, facial, and motor imitation acts seemed to be difficult for children with autism. However, the small number of children included as well as the individual variation observed among the autistic subjects precludes any definite conclusions from these pilot observations. It is hypothesized that imitation in children with autism has to be studied separately for different domains and probably also for different subgroups within the autistic population.