, Volume 23, Issue 5, pp 421-431

Do Object and Gesture Imitation Skills Represent Independent Dimensions in Autism?

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Children with autism exhibit significant deficits in imitation. Previous research has suggested that object and gesture imitation are independent in autism, and that object imitation may be related to play skills, while gesture imitation may be related to expressive language. However, this finding has not been replicated in the literature. This study examined the concurrent relationship between imitation and language and play in 27 young children with autism. After controlling for developmental age, total imitation was related to child expressive vocabulary. Object imitation had a unique relationship with symbolic play; however, gesture imitation was not uniquely correlated with language. Object and gesture imitation skills were highly correlated, questioning the true independence of these skills in children with autism. Different types of imitation skills in children with autism may be better described as involving a general imitative capacity along with other more specific skills.