, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 383-394

Self-recognition in autistic children

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The hypothesis that the autistic child's impairment in social relatedness stems in part from underlying deficits in self-recognition was explored. Fifteen autistic children ranging from 4 to 6 years of age were assessed for visual self-recognition ability, as well as for skills in two cognitive areas that are believed to be related to the development of self-recognition — object permanence and gestural imitation. It was found that 13 of 15 autistic children showed evidence of self-recognition. The two autistic children who lacked self-recognition were the only two children to perform poorly on the object permanence tasks, which suggests that these two cognitive domains may be closely linked in development. In contrast, there appeared to be no consistent relationship between motor imitation ability and self-recognition. It was concluded that the autistic child's social deficits are not due to a basic lack of differentiation between self and other.

This research was funded by the University of North Carolina Research Council. Part of the data presented here were from Fawn McKissick's undergraduate honors thesis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We express our sincere appreciation to the autistic children who participated in the study, and to their parents, and to the staff of the TEACCH Division, Department of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina, for their assistance and cooperation. We would also like to thank several persons for their help in data collecting and coding: Karen Cotten, Pete Giordano, Vickie Hall, Lee Hendrix, Shari Jernigan, Kevin Lumley, Cindy Seagroves, Sheryl Solomon, Kathy Stetson, and Jeannie Teasley. Mary Lynn Eckert provided editorial and secretarial support. Dr. Robert Cairns made helpful comments on this paper.