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J Autism Dev Disord. 2002 Apr;32(2):91-106.

Interrelations among social-cognitive skills in young children with autism.

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  • 1Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany.


Typically developing infants show a reliable developmental sequence of emergence of early social-cognitive skills, such as joint attention, communicative gestures, gaze and point following, imitation, and referential language. First infants share others' attention, then they follow others' attention and then behavior, and then they direct others' attention and then behavior. The current study used a series of tests from a study of typically developing infants (Carpenter, Nagell, & Tomasello, 1998) to investigate interrelations among these social-cognitive skills in young children with autism and children with other developmental delays. Tests of object permanence, spatial relations, facial and manual imitation, and executive function also were included. We found that for most children with autism, unlike other children, tests involving others' attention were more difficult than tests involving others' behavior. However, within the domains of attention and behavior, the typical pattern of sharing, then following, and then directing was evident. There were several positive intercorrelations among the social-cognitive skills (as there were for typically developing infants), but there also was some evidence of individual differences in patterns. Implications for theories of social-cognitive and language development are discussed.

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