Skip to main content

Imitation and social responsiveness in autistic children

Abstract

Fifteen autistic children, ages 4–6 years, participated in the present study. Imitation and object permanence skills were assessed. Language and social behaviors were observed during free play. Children were also exposed to three interactive procedures that differed in developmental sophistication. The experimenter either (1) simultaneously imitated the child's actions, (2) modeled a familiar action, or (3) modeled a novel action. It was found that the autistic children who had a low level of imitative ability (Piaget's Stages 2–3) were more socially responsive, showed more eye contact, and played with toys in a less perseverative manner when the experimenter imitated their behavior than when the experimenter modeled either a familiar or a novel action. When the experimenter modeled a familiar as opposed to a novel action, these children were more likely to spontaneously imitate the experimenter. The autistic children with more highly developed imitation skills, however, responded similarly to all conditions. They also were generally more socially and verbally responsive. These results suggest that developmental status is an important variable in designing intervention programs for severely impaired children.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Baer, D. M., Peterson, R. F., & Sherman, J. A. (1967). The development of imitation by reinforcing behavioral similarity to a model.Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 10, 405–416.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Bartak, L., Rutter, M.,& Cox, A. (1975). A comparative study of infantile autism and specific developmental receptive language disorder. I. The children.British Journal of Psychiatry, 126, 127–145.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Bates, E. (1979).The emergence of symbols. New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bower, T. G. R. (1977).Development in infancy. San Francisco: Freeman.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Brainerd, C. J. (1978). The stage question in cognitive-development theory.Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1, 173–181.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Curcio, F. (1978). Sensorimotor functioning and communication in mute autistic children.Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia, 8, 281–292.

    Google Scholar 

  7. DeMyer, M. K., Alpern. G. D., Barton, S., DeMyer, W. E., Churchill, D. W. Hingtgen, J. N., Bryson, C. Q., Pontius, W., & Kimberlin, C. (1972). Imitation in autistic, early schizophrenic, and nonpsychotic subnormal children.Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia, 2, 264–287.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Ferrara, C., & Hill, S. D. (1980). The responsiveness of autistic children to the predictability of social and nonsocial toys.Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 10, 51–57.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Fischer, K. W. (1980). A theory of cognitive development: The control and construction of a hierarchy of skills.Psychological Review, 87, 477–531.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Flavell, J. H. (1971). Stage-related properties of cognitive development.Cognitive Psychology, 2, 421–453.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Hammes, J. G. W., & Langdell, T. (1981). Precursors of symbol formation and childhood autism.Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 11, 331–346.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Howlin, P. A. (1981). The effectiveness of operant training with autistic children.Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 11, 89–106.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Kaye, K. (1979). Thickening thin data: The maternal role in developing communication and language. In M. Bullowa (Ed.),Before speech (pp. 191–206). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Kaye, K., & Marcus, J. (1981). Infant imitation: The sensory-motor agenda.Developmental Psychology, 17, 258–265.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Long, J. S., & Rasmussen, M. (1974). The acquisition of simple and compound sentence structure in an autistic child.Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 7, 473–479.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Lovaas, O. I., Berberich, J. P., Perloff, B. F., & Schaeffer, B. (1966). Acquisition of imitative speech by schizophrenic children.Science, 151, 705–707.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Lovaas, O. I., Freitas, L., Nelson, K., & Whalen, C. (1967). The establishment of imitation and its use for the development of complex behavior in schizophrenic children.Behaviour Research and Therapy, 5, 171–181.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Lovaas, O. I., Schreibman, L., & Koegel, R. L. (1974). A behavior modification approach to the treatment of autistic children.Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia, 4, 111–129.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Lovaas, O. I., & Simmons, J. Q. (1969). Manipulation of self-destruction in three retarded children.Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 2, 143–157.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Papousek, H., & Papousek, M. (1977). Mothering and cognitive headstart: Psychobiological considerations. In H. R. Schaffer (Ed.),Studies in mother-infant interation (pp. 63–85). New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Piaget, J. (1962).Play, dreams, and imitation in childhood. New York: Norton.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Ricks, D. M., & Wing, L. (1975). Language, communication, and the use of symbols in normal and autistic children.Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia, 5, 191–221.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Riquet, C. B., Taylor, N. D., Benaroya, S., & Klein, L. S. (1981). Symbolic play in autistic, Down's and normal children of equivalent mental age.Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 4, 439–448.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Risley, E. R., & Wolf, M. (1967). Establishing functional speech in echolalic children.Behaviour Research and Therapy, 5, 73–88.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Schell, R. E., Stark, J., & Giddan, J. J. (1967). Development of language behavior in an autistic child.Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 32, 51–64.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Schopler, E., Reichler, R. J., DeVellis, R. F., & Daly, K. (1980). Toward objective classification of childhood autism: Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS).Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 10, 91–103.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Seligman, M. E. P. (1975).Helplessness: On depression, death, and development, San Francisco: Freeman.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Suomi, S. J. (1981). The perception of contingency and social development. In M. E. Lamb & L. R. Sherrod (Eds.),Infant social cognition (pp. 177–204). Hillside, New Jersey: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Trevarthen, C. (1977). Descriptive analyses of infant communicative behavior. In H. R. Schafer (Ed.),Studies in mother-infant interaction (pp. 227–270). New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Ungerer, J. A., & Sigman, M. (1981). Symbolic play and language comprehension in autistic children.Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 20, 318–337.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Uzgiris, I. C. (1981). Experience in the social context. In R. L. Schiefelbusch & D. D. Bricker (Eds.),Early language: Acquistion and intervention (pp. 139–168). Baltimore: University Park Press.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Uzgiris, I. C., & Hunt, J. McV. (1975).Assessment in infancy. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Wing, L., & Gould, J. (1979). Severe impairments of social interaction and associated abnormalities in children: Epidemiology and classification.Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 9, 11–29.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Yoder, D. E., & Calculator, S. (1981). Some perspectives on intervention strategies for persons with developmental disorders.Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 11, 107–124.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Geraldine Dawson.

Additional information

We would like to express our appreciation to the autistic children who participated in the study, and to their parents, and to the staff of the T.E.A.C.C.H. Division, University of North Carolina for their help and cooperation. We would also like to thank Karen Cotten, Pete Giordano, Vickie Hall, Lee Hendrix, Shari Jernigan, Kevin Lumley, Cindy Seagroves, Sheryl Solomon, Kathy Stetson, and Jeannie Teasley for their assistance in data collection and coding, and Mary Lynn Eckert and Anne Stanford for their secretarial assistance. Cathy Dent provided helpful suggestions on earlier drafts of the paper. Support was provided by UNC Research Council.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Dawson, G., Adams, A. Imitation and social responsiveness in autistic children. J Abnorm Child Psychol 12, 209–226 (1984). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00910664

Download citation

Keywords

  • Intervention Program
  • Social Behavior
  • Important Variable
  • Autistic Child
  • Developmental Status