Several studies have reported imitative deficits in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, it is still debated if imitative deficits are specific to ASD or shared with clinical groups with similar mental impairment and motor difficulties. We investigated whether imitative tasks can be used to discriminate ASD children from typically developing children (TD) and children with general developmental delay (GDD). We applied discriminant function analyses to the performance of these groups on three imitation tasks and tests of dexterity, motor planning, verbal skills, theory of mind (ToM). Analyses revealed two significant dimensions. The first represented impairment of dexterity and verbal ability, and discriminated TD from GDD children. Once these differences were accounted for, differences in ToM and the three imitation tasks accounted for a significant proportion of the remaining intergroup variance and discriminated the ASD group from other groups. Further analyses revealed that inclusion of imitative tasks increased the specificity and sensitivity of ASD classification and that imitative tasks considered alone were able to reliably discriminate ASD, TD and GDD. The results suggest that imitation and theory of mind impairment in autism may stem from a common domain of origin separate from general cognitive and motor skill.
Perra, O., Williams, J. H. G., Whiten, A., Fraser, L., Benzie, H., & Perrett, D. I. (2008). Imitation and 'theory of mind' competencies in discrimination of autism from other neurodevelopmental disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 2(3), 456-468. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2007.09.007