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J Autism Dev Disord. 2018 Aug;48(8):2790-2799. doi: 10.1007/s10803-018-3540-y.

Imaginary Companions in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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Psychology Department, University of Huddersfield, EKG/09, Queensgate, Huddersfield, HD1 3DH, UK.
Psychology Department, Drexel University, 3141 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA, 19104, USA.
Psychology Department, University of York, Heslington, York, YO10 5DD, UK.
AJ Drexel Autism Institute, 3020 Market St., Philadelphia, PA, 19104, USA.


One of the deficits observed in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is impaired imaginative play. One form of imaginative play common in many typically developing (TD) children is having an imaginary companion (IC). The occurrence of ICs has not been investigated extensively in children with ASD. We examined differences in parent report of IC between TD and ASD populations in 215 (111 with ASD) gender-matched children aged between 2 and 8 years. Findings indicate that significantly fewer children with ASD created ICs, although there were many between-group similarities in IC forms and functions. Results are discussed in terms of qualitative differences in play, social attributions, and how children with ASD conceptualize their ICs' minds.


Autism spectrum disorder; Imaginary companions; Imagination; Social attribution; Social development

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