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Res Dev Disabil. 2013 Nov;34(11):3822-32. doi: 10.1016/j.ridd.2013.07.039. Epub 2013 Sep 7.

Understanding goals and intentions in low-functioning autism.

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Department of Cognitive Psychology, Eötvös Loránd University, Izabella u. 46, H-1064 Budapest, Hungary. Electronic address:


We investigated ability to understand goals and attribute intentions in the context of two imitation studies in low-functioning, nonverbal children with autism (L-F CWA), a population that is rarely targeted by research in the domain. Down syndrome children (DSC) and typically developing children (TDC) were recruited to form matched comparison groups. In the two sets of simple action demonstrations only contextual indicators of the model's intentions were manipulated. In the Head touch experiment the model activated a button on a toy by pushing it with the forehead, whereas in the Hidden box experiment the model used a ball with a magnet to lift a box out of its container. Both actions were unusual and non-affordant with regards to the objects involved, none of the children in the baseline condition produced them. L-F CWA imitated the experimenter exactly, regardless of the model's intention. TDC showed appreciation of the model's intention by imitating her actions selectively. DSC reproduced only the intentional action as often as they imitated the experimenter exactly. It is concluded that L-F CWA attributed goals to the observed model, but did not show an appreciation of the model's intentions even in these simplified, nonverbal contexts.


Autism; Deferred imitation; Intentionality; Understanding goals

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