-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
MONDAY, April 8 (HealthDay News) -- Unlike typically developing
children who copy almost everything they see, kids with autism
rarely imitate or repeat any nonsensical or silly behavior,
according to a small new study.
The findings were published April 8 in the journal
"The data suggest that children with autism do things efficiently rather than socially, whereas typical children do things socially rather than efficiently," Antonia Hamilton of the University of Nottingham, in England, said in a journal news release. "We find that typical children copy everything an adult does, whereas autistic children only do the actions they really need to do."
The study involved 31 children with autism spectrum disorders,
an umbrella term for a group of developmental brain disorders that
impair a child's ability to communicate and socialize. Thirty
typically developing children of similar verbal mental age also
During five tests, the kids were asked to watch closely as a
demonstrator took a toy out of a box or assembled an object.
Each time the demonstrator took the lid off of the box, which
was considered a necessary action. The demonstrator also tapped on
the top of the box twice -- an unnecessary action.
After the boxes were reset, each of the children was asked to
retrieve or assemble the toy as quickly as possible. However, the
children were not specifically instructed to copy any behavior they
had seen, the study authors noted.
Although nearly all of the children completed the assigned task,
those who did not have an autism spectrum disorder were much more
likely to include the "unnecessary" step, the study revealed. These
kids imitated up to 57 percent of these "silly" actions. In
contrast, the children with autism imitated only 22 percent of the
The researchers concluded that the social nature of imitation is
both important and challenging for children with autism. Looking
ahead, they said more research is needed to determine exactly what
kind of actions children copy, and how this behavior contributes to
human cultural transmission of knowledge.
Visit the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and
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