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Autism. 2003 Dec;7(4):379-90.

A review of research into pretend play in autism.

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  • 1Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, UK.


Autism is currently diagnosed, in part at least, on the basis of problems in imagination. The article reviews the empirical evidence of difficulties in pretend play in autism, and focuses in particular on individuals' ability to engage in pretence in free play conditions, to produce pretence in more structured situations, and to make sense of pretend actions carried out by another person. These data suggest that individuals with autism have a marked difficulty in producing pretend play, but one that is reduced by providing substantial structure to the play situation or by testing comprehension of pretence. The implications of these findings for theories of pretend play in autism, in terms of an inability to conceive of non-literal situations, a difficulty in imposing a pretend usage on an object, or a failure to gain a benefit from engaging in pretend play, are discussed.

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