Making the choice: style, path, or goal? : imitation in autism spectrum disorders
Previous research has demonstrated mixed results with regard to the nature of imitation impairments in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). While imitation of actions on objects has generally been thought to be less effected, the "style" or way in which an action is performed has been suggested to be impaired in individuals with ASD (Hobson & Hobson, 2008; Hobson & Lee, 1999). This study examined imitation of an action through style, path, and goal components using the imitation choice task developed by Wagner, Yocom, and Greene-Havas (2008). The main questions this study sought to examine were: (1) Do young children with ASD imitate aspects of an imitative action on an object at the same rate as typically developing children?; and (2) When exact imitation is precluded, are there differences in what children with ASD and typical development choose to imitate? The results revealed that children with typical development showed more imitation of the style component than the children with ASD. In the choice imitation condition, children with ASD demonstrated neither a path nor a goal preference while children with typical development showed a path preference. Overall, the results suggest that the components that children with ASD choose to imitate differ from those that children with typical development prefer. These results may help explain some of the discrepant findings previously reported in the imitation literature. Specifically, these results suggest that children with ASD do imitate, but how they imitate is different. This may have important implications for the assessment of imitation abilities and interventions that address imitation or use imitation to teach other skills. This may have important implications for refining measures to assess imitation abilities in a more detailed manner. Additionally, these results have implications for designing and implementing interventions that address imitation or use imitation to teach other skills as merely teaching imitation of a behavioral goal does not capture the true nature of imitation.