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J Autism Dev Disord. 2003 Dec;33(6):673-83.

Effect of sensory feedback on immediate object imitation in children with autism.

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  • 1University of California, San Diego, California, USA.


This study examined the effect of sensory feedback (e.g., flashing lights and sound) on the imitation performance of children with autism and typical children group-matched for mental age. Participants were administered an immediate object-imitation task with six novel toys constructed for this study: three with a sensory effect that could be activated by imitating the modeled action and three without a sensory effect. Although overall imitation performance did not differ significantly between the two groups, the imitation performance of the participants with autism was significantly higher with sensory toys than with nonsensory toys. Typical participants' imitation performance did not differ between the two sets of toys. Both groups played significantly more with the sensory toys during free play, indicating that sensory toys were more reinforcing for both groups. Additional results demonstrated that typical children used significantly more social behaviors during imitation than children with autism, but they did not differ in object-oriented behaviors, replicating previous findings. It is argued that children with autism may be less motivated to imitate by social interaction, but may be motivated to imitate to receive a nonsocial reward (sensory feedback).

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