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An overview of imitation skills in autism: implications for practice.

Research findings suggest certain forms of imitation may be relatively more difficult for individuals with autism compared to typically developing peers. Findings of deficits in imitation skills have significant implications for intervention approaches given the critical nature of imitation to one's ability to learn from the environment. This article provides an overview of the research findings in behavioral and cognitive developmental psychology on imitation skills in autism. Implications of current findings for intervention are presented and recommendations for practice-relevant research are also made.

Implications for Practice

Autism spectrum disorders involve a complex array of learning and behavioral deficits and excesses. Although autism is characteristically heterogeneous, individuals with autism display these deficits and excesses in the following three areas: communication, social relationships, and behavioral perseveration and rigidity. The heterogeneity of autism allows for few conclusive statements about learning styles of individuals with autism. The learning characteristics that have been identified include problems with perseverative responding (e.g. position preferences), overselective responding, and poor skill generalization.

Recent research in cognitive developmental and neuropsycholgy suggests that another possible characteristic learning deficit in individuals with autism may include imitation. Much of the research on imitation deficits in individuals with autism is drawn from between-group designs comparing the skills of primarily children with autism to children matched on verbal or non-verbal mental age. In various studies, children with autism underperform on various imitation tasks compared to the control groups (Heimann, et al., 1992; Ohta, 1987; Jones & Prior, 1985; Hammes & Langdell, 1981). However, these findings appear to be in contradiction with clinical observations of excessive imitative ability (e.g. echolalia) and findings from applied behavior analytic research indicating success in teaching imitation to children with autism.

Given the critical nature of imitation to learning, understanding the nature of imitation skills in individuals with autism is necessary to developing effective early intervention and instructional practices. This article will highlight relevant research and practices on imitation skills in individuals with autism. Behavioral and cognitive developmental disciplines have been the most prolific in the study of imitation skills in individuals with autism. As such this article will focus primarily on the contributions of these disciplines.

Our fairly limited understanding of the nature and impact of deficient imitation skills in children with autism are in part due to disparate theoretical and methodological approaches between behavioral and cognitive developmental research. Cognitive developmental theories view imitation as a keystone skill representing a child's understanding of the relationship between himself and the environment. Imitation represents a child's first understanding of person-environment relationships within cognitive developmental theories. Thus, imitation is thought to allow for the development of other critical person-environment relationships such as communication and social skills.

While the focus of cognitive theories on hypothetical constructs such as "theory of mind" are less useful, studies of typical and atypical development of imitation in autism is an important contribution of this approach. The methods employed in cognitive developmental research typically evaluate whether the imitation skills of children with autism are typical for their intellectual level. Thus, between-group designs are almost exclusively used by cognitive developmental researchers matching control and experimental groups on standardized test variable reflecting either verbal or non-verbal mental age.

Imitation in behavior theory has been conceptualized in both strict operant and cognitive behavioral terms. Kymissis & Poulson (1990) provided one of the most comprehensive reviews of the history of imitation research from a learning theory perspective. Conclusions from Kymissis & Poulson (1990) suggest that Baer & Deguchi's (1985) operant conceptualization of imitation and generalized imitation may be the most useful in accounting for the development of complex imitative behavior in humans. Albert Bandura's research on imitation (1969, 1977) provided groundwork for contemporary social learning perspectives on imitation and observational learning. In behavioral investigations of imitation in children with autism, emphasis is often placed on factors influencing skill acquisition including teaching factors such as presentation mode and model type. Independent variables evaluated in behavioral analytic literature typically include response class generalization, peer modeling, and video modeling and are investigated within single-subject designs. The focus of behavioral research in autism is primarily on factors influencing instruction.

Different disciplines also have different vocabularies for describing imitation. Unfortunately, the distinctions between these terms have not been presented consistently within or across disciplines. Behavioral theorists have distinguished between many types of imitative behavior including conditioned reflexes (Kysmiss & Poulson, 1990), matched dependent behavior vs. copying (Miller & Dollard, 1947), generalized imitation (Baer & Deguchi, 1985), and modeling vs. vicarious learning (Bandura, 1977).

Cognitive developmental theorists also distinguish between types of imitative behavior, distinguishing between imitation, emulation, mimicry, and social facilitation (Roeyers, Van Oost, & Bothuyne, 1998). Imitation refers to the reproduction of a model's actions in topography and function for novel actions only. It is distinguished from mimicry in which the reproduction of the action occurs outside of the functional context used by the model and from emulation in which a different topographical response is used to obtain the same functional goal as the model. Finally, facilitation is used to refer to reproduction of an action that was already within the child's repertoire. Given the lack of congruence between the vocabularies for distinguishing between types of imitative behavior, the remainder of this article will use the term "imitation" to refer to all categories of actions in which reproduction of a model's behavior is involved.

Cognitive Developmental Findings

As indicated above, cognitive developmental research on imitation in autism primarily focuses on the presence or absence of an autism-specific imitation deficit. Early research in this field generally used Piagetian models of sensorimotor development and compared children with autism to mental-age matched peers on a series of sensorimotor tasks (Charman & Baron-Cohen, 1994; Dawson & Adams, 1984). DeMyer, et al. (1972) were among the first to investigate imitation skills in autism. In the experiment, 12 children with autism and early childhood schizophrenia were compared to a control group of children with mental retardation. The groups were evaluated on a variety of body movement (i.e. gestural) and object manipulation imitation tasks. Children with autism exhibited significantly less imitation overall than children in the control group and had particular difficulty with gestural imitation.

DeMyer, et al.'s (1972) initial research generated subsequent studies supportive of the general findings of imitation deficits in autism (Heimann, Ullstadius, Dahlgren, & Gillberg; 1992; Ohta, 1987; Jones & Prior, 1985; Hammes & Langdell, 1981). The few studies (Charman & Baron-Cohen, 1994; Morgan, et al., 1989) that did not find group differences on imitation tasks may have encountered ceiling effects as evidenced by Charman & Baron-Cohen (1994) use of task designed for infants with a group of relatively high functioning children and adolescents with autism.

In addition to the presence or absence of an imitation deficit in autism, another debate in the autism literature is whether different task types have differential influences on performance. This research line arose out of the cognitive developmental research on imitation in typically developing infants and children in which distinctions are often made between domains of imitation. In typical development, imitation of skills varies depending upon the domain. In general, imitations using objects appear before gestural imitations. Symbolic imitations appear around 1-2 years, in congruence with neo-Piagetian theory.

A substantial amount of research supports the finding that imitation in children with autism may be at least partially controlled by the type of task that is presented. Hertzig, et al. (1989) found low-functioning autistic subjects performed worse on sensorimotor and symbolic tasks than an MR and typical preschool controls. Hammes & Langdell (1981) found that subjects with autism had deficits in symbolic imitations compared to children with mental retardation, but performed equivalently on simple sensorimotor imitations using objects. Heimann, Ullstadius, Dahlgren, & Gillberg (1992) also found that level of imitation in children with autism varied with the domain-membership of the task presented. While children with autism performed worse on all tasks than controls, they imitated object manipulation tasks and vocal imitation tasks most frequently. Motor tasks were the least frequently imitated categories for children with autism. Many additional studies confirmed the above findings of a relative deficit in gestural imitation in children with autism. (Stone, Ousley, & Littleford, 1997; Heimann, Ullstadius, Dahlgren, & Gillberg, 199w; Soorya & Romanczyk, 2000).

In addition to the parameters of gestural vs. object manipulation tasks, cognitive developmental studies have also evaluated parameters such as the familiar vs. unfamiliar actions and sequential vs. static actions. Roeyers, et al. (1998) found that young children with autism performed worse than children with mental retardation matched on either mental age or chronological age. Children with autism performed worse than the control group on all tasks with, the largest between group differences found for novel gestural tasks. The results of this study suggest the novelty of the task may influence imitation performance, at least with young children with autism. The results of Roeyers, et al. (1998) are supported by previous findings by Dawson & Adams (1984) who found that children with autism had an intact ability to imitate familiar, learned gestures. The length and sequential nature of tasks was evaluated by Libby, Powell, Messer, & Jordan (1997). Children with autism unexpectedly performed better than children with Down syndrome and typically developing children on symbolic imitation tasks involving one action. However, children with autism were found to have more difficulty than controls on tasks with multiple components.

Behavioral findings

Behavioral research on imitation skills in individuals with autism has the distinction of focusing on factors influencing learning. Several parameters that influence imitation in individuals with autism have been identified through behavioral research, including reinforcement, response class, type of model, and presentation mode.

Similar to cognitive research on the influence of task type on performance, Young, Krantz, McClannahan and Poulson (1994) evaluated generalized imitation in children with autism within and across response classes. In particular, this study examined three imitation response classes: vocal, toy play and pantomime. Interestingly, imitation generalized within the vocal response class and the pantomime response class. Imitation did not generalize within the toy play response class. Imitation also did not generalize across response classes. The authors suggest that toy play behavior may be the most difficult of the three response classes due to perseverative and self-stimulatory behavior observed that could have interfered with imitation. A similar finding of limited generalization across response classes also found by Neef, Shafer, Egel, Cataldo and Parrish (1983). The same finding is shown when mothers were models for their typically developing infants. That is, imitation was shown to generalize within the response classes, but not across response classes (Poulson, Kyparissos, Andreatos, Kymissis, & Parnes, 2002).

There is a substantial behavior analytic literature that has assessed imitation using different types of models (peer and adult) for teaching children with autism. Ihrig and Wolchik (1988) conducted a study to compare adult versus peer models in teaching children with autism. They found that both models resulted in equivalent learning. In addition, high levels of generalization and maintenance of imitative behaviors were shown for children in both conditions (adult or peer).

Peer modeling has been shown to facilitate the acquisition of several types of behaviors, including motor, communication and social skills (Carr & Darcy, 1990; Peck, Apollini, Cooke, & Braver, 1978) for children with autism. Variables contributing to the successful modeling of peer behavior include the close physical proximity of the peer (Charlop, Schriebman & Tryon, 1983; Coleman & Stedman 1974), the prompting of specific behaviors by the adult (Peck et. al., 1978) or by the peer (Carr & Darcy, 1990) and using a progressive time delay procedure (Venn et. al., 1993). Using typical children as peer models for autistic children in the classroom environment to address academic related skills such as following directions and attention to task was shown to increase such skills. (Lanquetot, 1989). Peer modeling has also been shown to be effective with the teaching of functional skills to children with autism (Pepperberg & Sherman, 2000).

Peer modeling has also been shown to facilitate stimulus generalization, response generalization, and improved social interactions. For example, Carr & Darcy (1990) suggest that using multiple objects and actions (stimuli) during training may facilitate generality of responses to other settings. Venn et. al.(1993), using an errorless learning approach, showing that a lower rate of errors is observed in the acquisition of novel behaviors following the peer modeling procedure. Recently, research has examined videotaped modeling as an alternative mode of presentation. Video modeling has been used to successfully teach conversational skills (Charlop & Milstein, 1989), purchasing skills (Haring, et al, 1987), and daily living skills (Shipley-Benamou, Lutzker, & Taubman, 2002) to individuals with autism. For example, results from Haring et al (1987) study of instruction in purchasing skills in young adults with autism indicated a significant increase in both purchasing behaviors and social behaviors after implementation of the videotape training phase. While video modeling and peer modeling have shown positive effects in many studies, it remains to be seen whether the modeling procedures have differential impact compared to their counterparts (e.g. live modeling, adult modeling).

Instructional Practices

Because of the importance of imitation to typical development of language, social, and cognitive skills, imitation is often targeted early in intervention plans and continues to be addressed throughout the child's treatment. Treatments for autism based on either behavioral or cognitive developmental models emphasize imitation skills particularly with young children with autism. The methods and treatments used within cognitive developmental approaches remain to be empirically validated. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) as an intervention approach for children with autism is strongly recommended (New York State Department of Health, 1999). As indicated in the review above, ABA research typically focuses on issues influencing learning, this review of instructional methods of teaching imitation will focus primarily on behavioral approaches.

There are a variety of behavioral treatment approaches aimed at treating children with autism Including discrete trail teaching, verbal behavior, natural language procedures, incidental teaching, errorless learning, etc. At their core, all such procedures use basic ABA procedures such as stimulus control, prompts, modeling, shaping, and reinforcement to teach imitation skills, and regardless of the specific approach chosen, all procedures consider imitation skills to be near-essential to new learning. In discrete trial teaching, skills are broken into small steps and each step is systematically taught using strategies derived from basic principles of behavior. Imitation skills are typically among the first to be taught in a discrete trial program because they are often considered to be prerequisite abilities for learning other skills. For example, motor imitation (clapping, standing, rolling a car) might be taught so that the child can later be taught to follow the verbal instructions of a teacher or parent. Similarly, teaching verbal imitation (say "cookie") can aid in later teaching of spontaneous speech skills. Once basic imitation skills are established, they can be used as building blocks for more complex skills. Discrete trial procedures typically makes generous use of prompting procedures in order to increase the likelihood that the child will respond correctly and receive subsequent reinforcement. Prompts that require imitation skills include verbal directions ("say 'I want car'") and modeled prompts (demonstrating how to use a toy and then asking the child to imitate the toy play behavior). Similarly, imitation skills are part of the basis of the Verbal Behavior approach to treatment. This approach is based on Skinner's conceptualization of language as similar to other types of learned behavior. Verbal behavior approaches to teaching language to children with autism emphasize teaching language in its many functional components. That is, language is perceived as having many functions, including to alter one's environment (manding), to respond to sensory stimuli (tacting), and verbal behavior in response to another person's verbal behavior (intraverbals). Imitation is used throughout the teaching of mands, tacts, and intraverbals primarily in form of verbal models to engage in the correct form of speech to complete the target function.

Imitation also plays an important role in naturalistic teaching procedures such Pivotal Response Training (Koegel & Schreibman, 1996) and incidental teaching. The goal of Pivotal Response Training is to teach pivotal skills that affect a broad range of functions. Pivotal skills include responsivity to multiple cues, motivation, and self-management (Stahmer 1999). The approach capitalizes on the child's motivation by using strategies such as child choice and turn taking to teach new skills. For example, a child might be offered a choice between a two toys and might then be prompted to imitate the label of the approached toy. Similarly. incidental teaching uses child initiated interactions as opportunities to prompt the child to make appropriate responses. Imitation is a critical skill needed to respond to many prompts. For example, a child who begins to approach a stuffed animal may be prompted to say "dog" in order to gain access to the toy.

Language Instruction

Communication instruction is a critical component of most autism treatment programs. Most children with autism display prominent delays in these areas and those that are not delayed in acquiring language typically have difficulty with its pragmatic use. Both Skinner and Bandura theorized that children learn language through processes of reinforcement and extinction. That is, speech is acquired through reinforced imitation of desired adult speech and extinction of undesirable sounds for a given culture. While speech instruction is often seen as the domain of speech and language therapists, ABA trained individuals across all disciplines use behavioral theories of language acquisition to facilitate communication skills in both verbal and nonverbal domains.

An example of a behavioral language training approach is demonstrated in a study by Charlop and colleagues (1985). The authors demonstrated that children with autism could be taught to make spontaneous verbal responses through an imitation promoting procedure (Charlop, Shreibman, Thibodeau, 1985). In this study, the experimenter initially presented the child with a visual stimulus such as a cookie and modeled the response, "I want cookie." The verbal model was slowly delayed to encourage a spontaneous response from the child. Children participating in this study learned to spontaneously request the items taught using this imitation procedure. Further, the spontaneous speech generalized from the teaching situation to other people, places and stimuli. In a different study, the authors used both video modeling and in vivo modeling with reinforcement training to teach two similar receptive and expressive language. Results indicated that even though modeling improved performance on both receptive and expressive tasks, no generalization to other receptive and expressive tasks was observed (Charlop-Christy, Le, & Freeman, 2000).

Imitation has also been successfully used to teach gestural communication (Buffington, Krantz, McClannahan, & Poulson, (1998). Children with autism often show deficits in their use of communicative gestures. Buffington and colleagues taught children to use attentional (e.g raising one's hand), affective (e.g. shaking one's head), and referential (e.g. gesturing 'tiny') gestures by modeling the correct gesture following incorrect responses and then providing the child with the opportunity to correct his or her response. The authors also used physical prompts along with verbal and token reinforcement of correct responses to teach the gestures. Children in this study learned to used the gestures being taught and generalized these responses to new stimuli and settings.

Social Skills Instruction

In addition to building communication skills, most or all intervention programs focus on development of socialization. Social deficits are considered to be a defining characteristic of autism. Not surprisingly, social skills are also among the most difficult skills to teach. Social deficits in this population include deficits in social use of language, poor recognition and response to emotions, deficient peer interactions, and more. One reason that social skills are difficult to teach is that typically developing children rarely require direct instruction to acquire these skills; they learn through imitation of the social mores of adults in their play (e.g. playing store or having a tea party) and in their interactions with others (e.g. a very young child may imitate the script of social greetings and farewells).

Unlike typically developing children, children with autism are often unable to acquire social skills through observational learning alone. For example, children with autism who are placed in a class with typically developing peers will typically not acquire needed skills simply by watching and imitating these peers. Children with autism often require direct instructions, modeling, role-playing, practice and reinforcement in order to acquire new social skills.

While many programs for social skills instruction are available, little systematic research on effective instructional practices is available. Buggey, Toombs, Gardener, and Cervetti (1999) found increased appropriate play interactions when using video samples of the participants themselves as their own models. Buggey and collegues (1999) spliced together videotapes of children with autism appropriately responding to questions. Participants who viewed this tape almost doubled their rates of appropriate responding to the target questions during a subsequent play session (Buggey, Toombs, Gardener & Cervetti, 1999).


The review above reflects the current state of knowledge about imitation skills in individuals with autism. Cognitive developmental research indicates that children with autism have deficits in imitation that cannot be better accounted for by intellectual status. These deficits are most severe in the domains of gestural and motor imitation (Stone, et al., 1997). Behavioral studies have revealed a wealth of information regarding the influence of many parameters of instruction. The Young et al. (1994) study suggests that that imitation must be taught within response classes for individuals with autism (e.g. toy play should be taught separately from motor imitation). Various studies of peer modeling suggest that peer modeling can be a cost effective tool for teaching communication and social skills (e.g. Carr & Darcy, 1990). Important variables in using peer models include prompting, progressive time-delays, and the physical proximity of the peer.

Despite the relative abundance of information on the imitative skills of individuals with autism, much remains to be explored given the primacy of imitation to learning from one's environment. Differences in imitation performance between subgroups of children with autism (e.g. high vs. low functioning), developmental changes across childhood, observational learning, differences between spontaneous vs. prompted imitation, and differences between immediate and deferred imitation in autism have not received attention in the literature to date.

In addition, assessments of imitation in individuals with autism or typically developing children are also limited. Elements of various standardized infant development tests such as the Bayley Scale of Infant Development are often used. Standardized tests of developmental dyspraxia, which have limited construct validity, have also been used. However, assessments that incorporate contemporary research findings for children across the developmental spectrum and allow for progress monitoring are not available. These types of assessments are clearly needed to improve instructional methods in imitation. Additional research investigating information that can be utilized in interventions is also needed. An integration of the findings and methods across the cognitive developmental and behavioral research would be a first step in aiding intervention approaches. While it may seem as if cognitive developmental research may have little to offer behavioral intervention approaches, some researchers have produced findings that could be utilized given better cross-discipline communication. For example, Dawson & Galpert (1990) evaluated outcomes when parents imitated their child with autism's social gaze and play. The study found positive correlations between parental imitation and improved social gaze and play behaviors. However, adult imitation of child behavior is not systematically used within empirically supported treatments for autism (i.e. ABA). ABA methods could also be used to likely improve the effectiveness of the findings from cognitive developmental research given the emphasis of motivational variables, which is often not addressed within cognitive developmental studies.

A significant problem in the behavior analytic literature is the lack of large N studies that evaluate specific characteristics of the participants such as age, intellectual ability, social interactiveness, presence/absence of verbal speech, etc. The focus on developmental changes and large group investigations of the cognitive developmental field could be utilized to better address the current limitation of the behavioral research on imitation in children with autism.

With the limitations above in mind, some recommendations for practice can be made based on the current findings. Table 1 below presents the authors' recommendations for effective instruction of imitation in individuals with autism based on the current research across disciplines. The table is organized by parameters of imitation primarily affecting instruction of basic skills. Research on instruction on higher level tasks such as social skills and complex procedural tasks is limited. Future expansion and integration of research in this field will hopefully address the many parameters that are absent from following list.


Bandura, A. (1969). Principles of Behavior Modification. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.: New York.

Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Buggey, T., Toombs, K., Gardener, P., Cervetti, M. (1999). Training responding behaviors in students with autism: Using videotaped self-modeling. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 1, 205-214.

Buffington, D.M., Krantz, P.J., McClannahan, L.E. & Poulson, C.L. (1998). Procedures for teaching appropriate gestural communication skills to children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 28, 535-544.

Buggey, T., Toombs, K., Gardener, P., & Cervetti, M. (1999). Training responding behaviors in students with autism: Using videotaped self-modeling. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 1, 205-214.

Carr, E.G. & Darcy, M. (1990). Setting generality of peer modeling in children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 20(1), 45-59

Charlop-Christy, M.H., Le, L, & Freeman, K.A. (2000). A comparison of video modeling with in-vivo modeling for teaching children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30, 537-552.

Charlop, M.H. & Milstein, J. P. (1989). Teaching autistic children conversational speech using video modeling. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 22, 275-285.

Charlop, M.H. Shreibman, L., Thibodeau M.G. (1985). Increasing spontaneous verbal responding in autistic children using a time delay. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 18, 155-166.

Charman, T. & Baron-Cohen, S. (1994). Another look at imitation in autism. Development and Psychopathology, 6, 403-413.

Clinical Practice Guideline: Report of the Recommendations. Autism/Pervasive Developmental Disorders, Assessment and Intervention for Young Children (Ages 0-3 Years), (1999), No. 4215, NYS Department of Health, Albany, NY

Coleman, S.L. & Stedman, J. M. (1974). Use of a peer model in language training in an echolalic child. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 5, 275-279.

Dawson, G. & Adams, A. (1984). Imitation and social responsiveness in mute autistic children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 12(2), 209-226.

Dawson, G. & Galpert, L. (1990). Mothers' use of imitative play for facilitating social responsiveness and toy play in young autistic children. Development and Psychopathology, 2, 151-162.

Gray, C. A. & Garand, J.D. (1993) Social stories: Improving responses of students with autism with accurate social information. Focus on Autistic Behavior, 8(1), 1-10.

Hammes, J. & Langdell, T. (1981). Precursors of Symbol Formation and Childhood Autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 11(3), 331-346.

Haring, T.G., Kennedy, C. H., Adam, M.J., & Pitts-Conway, V. (1987). Teaching generalization of purchasing skills across community settings to autistic youth using videotape modeling. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 20, 89-96.

Heimann, M., Ullstadius, E., Dahlgren, SO. & Gillberg C. (1992). Imitation in Autism: A preliminary research note. Behavioural Neurology, 5, 219-227

Hertzig, M.E., Snow, M.E., Sherman, M. (1989). Affect and cognition in autism. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 28, 195-199.

Ihrig, K. & Wolchik, S.A. (1988). Peer versus adult models and autistic children's learning: Acquisition, generalization, and maintenance. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 18, 67-79.

Jones, V. & Prior, M. (1985). Motor imitation abilities and neurological signs in autistic children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 15(1), 37-46.

Koegel, R. L. & Schreibman, L. (1996). Training for parents of children with autism: Pivotal responses and generalization. In P.S. Jensen & E. Hibbs (Eds.). Psychosocial treatment research with children and adolescents. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Lanquetot, R. (1989). The Effectiveness of Peer Modeling With Autistic Children. Journal of the Multihandicapped Person, 2, 25-34.

Libby, S., Powell, S., Messer, D., & Jordan, R. (1997). Imitation of Pretend Play Acts By Children With Autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 27(4), 365-383.

Neef, N. A., Shafer, M. S., Egel, A. L., Cataldo, M. F., & Parrish, J. M. (1983). The class specific effects of compliance training with do and don't requests: Analogue analysis and classroom application. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 16, 81-99.

Ohta, M. (1987). Cognitive Disorders of Infantile Autism: A Study Employing the WISC, Spatial Relationship Conceptualization, and Gesture Imitations. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 17(1), 45-62.

Peck, C.A, Apolloni, T., Cooke, T.P. & Raver S.A. (1978). Teaching retarded preschoolers to imitate the freeplay behavior of nonretarded classmates: Trained and generalized effects. Journal of Special Education, 12, 195-207.

Pepperberg, I. M. & Sherman, D. (2000). Proposed use of two-part interactive modeling as a means to increase functional skills in children with a variety of disabilities. Teaching and Learning in Medicine, 12, 213-220.

Poulson, C.L., Kyparissos, N., Andreatos, M. Kymissis, E. & Parnes, M.(2002). Generalized imitation with three response classes in typically developing infants. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 81, 341-357.

Robertson, H. & Biederman, G. (1989). Modeling, imitation, and observational learning in remediation experimentation 1979-1988: An analysis of the validity of research designs and outcomes. Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science, 21(2), 1989.

Roeyers, H., Van Oost, P., Bothyune, S. (1998). Immediate imitation and joint attention in young children with autism. Development and Psychopathology, 10, 441-450.

Shipley-Benamou, R., Lutzker, J.R., & Taubman, M. (2002). Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 4, 165-175.

Sundberg M.L. & Michael, J. (2001). The benefits of Skinner's analysis of verbal behavior for children with autism. Behavior Modification, 25, 698-724.

Soorya, L.V. & Romanczyk, R.G. (2000). Imitation and autism: the influence of model type and presentation mode. Unpublished manuscript, State University of New York at Binghamton.

Stahmer, Aubyn, C. (1999). Using pivotal response training to facilitate appropriate play in children with autism spectrum disorders. Child Language Teachings and Therapy, 15(1), 29-40

Stone, W.L., Ousley, O.Y., & Littleford, C.D. (1997). Motor imitation in young children with autism: What's the object? Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 25(6), 475-485.

Taylor, B.A., Levin, L., & Jasper, S. (1999). Increasing play-related statements in children with autism toward their siblings: Effects of video modeling. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 11, 253-264.

Venn, M.L., Wolery, M., Werts, M.G., Morris, A., DeCesare, L.D., & Cuffs, M. S. (1993). Embedding instruction in art activities to teach preschoolers with disabilities to imitate their peers. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 8, 277-294.

Young, J.M., Krantz, P.J., McClannahan, L.E., & Poulson, C.L. (1994). Generalized imitation and response-class formation in children with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 27, 685-697.

Questions or comments about this article are welcome to be emailed to Latha V. Soorya, M.A., BCBA at or Raymond G. Romanczyk, Ph.D. at Written communication may be sent to The Institute for Child Development, P.O. Box 6000, State University of N.Y. at Binghamton, Binghamton, N.Y. 13902-6000

Latha V. Soorya, M.A., BCBA

Laura M. Arnstein, M.A., BCBA

Jennifer Gillis, M.A. BCABA

and Raymond G. Romanczyk, Ph.D., BCBA

State University of New York at Binghamton
Imitation Research Finding(s) Clinical Implication

Task type Motor imitations are more Instructional programs
 difficult than object imi- should explicitly teach mo-
 tation (Stone, et al., tor,object, vocal, and sym-
 1997), but object imita- bolic imitation separately
 tion may display poorer to promote generalized
 generalization (Young, et imitation in each category.
 al., 1994). Motor imitation may require
 additional focus given re-
 lative difficulty in per-
 formance of this task.

Child vs. Adult imitation of child Incidental and natural
adult behavior found to promote language approaches may be
directed increased toy play (Dawson useful in teaching genera-
 & Galpert, 1990). lized imitation for ob-

Familiarity Imitation of familiar Performance of gestures
 gestures are intact, but such as waving may not
 children with autism have generalize to learning no-
 a relative difficulty with vel gestures such as commu-
 novel gestures (Dawson & nicative signs.
 Adams, 1984).

Task Length Imitation of single-compo- Instructional programs may
 nent symbolic actions benefit from developing
 intact, but multi-compo- protocols for teaching imi-
 nent actions are more tation from simple to
 difficult (Libby, et al., complex actions.

Model type Peer modeling is an effec- Research in typical deve-
 tive method of teaching lopment suggests modeling
 skills, but increased is facilitated by factors
 effectiveness of peers such as model similarity.
 compared to adults has not Findings suggest peer mode-
 been demonstrated in au- ling particularly for in-
 tism (Ihrig & Wolchick, creasing social contact may
 1988). be useful, but not neces-

Presentation Video modeling has been Video modeling has practi-
mode effectively used to teach cal benefits in terms of
 many skills, but its re- portability, but must be
 lative effectiveness com- weighed with costs such as
 pared to in-vivo modeling production time and
 has not been demonstrated expense.
 (e.g. Charlop & Milstein,
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Author:Soorya, Latha V.; Arnstein, Laura M.; Gillis, Jennifer; Romanczyk, Raymond G.
Publication:The Behavior Analyst Today
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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