Imitation and language abilities in adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder without language delay

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Difficulties imitating gestures have been found in several studies in children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). It has been hypothesized that imitation abilities might be precursors of language abilities in young children with autism. No study on imitation and language abilities in adolescents with ASD has been performed to date.


Fifteen male adolescents with ASD, 16 male and 13 female controls were compared regarding imitation abilities of upper and lower facial movements, and language skills as assessed by the pragmatic rating scale and the Aachen Aphasia test (AAT).


Autism Spectrum Disorder subjects showed reduced imitation abilities of facial movements and non-meaningful combined hand-and-finger gestures. Regarding language, ASD subjects showed difficulties in AAT spontaneous speech measures and reduced pragmatic language abilities. Correlations of imitation and language measures differed between ASD, male and female controls.


The weak and differential correlations of imitation and language measures in the three comparison groups might imply a differential organization of language and imitation networks in the three comparison groups. Pragmatic abilities, which are a central feature in ASD, were not related to imitation abilities. Therefore, imitation and language abilities in ASD might not be as closely correlated as previously expected.

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