A pilot randomized controlled trial of imitation intervention on generalized imitation in young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder




Caldwell, Nicolette Sammarco

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Imitation plays a fundamental role in early childhood development. It is through imitation that children begin to communicate and interact with others and the environment. Unlike their typical peers, children with ASD often do not develop imitation skills in a similar progression without being specifically taught. Many children with ASD have a delay or deficit in imitation ability. A deficit in imitation in children with ASD can negatively affect later communication development and may impair access to observational learning opportunities. Imitation ability is strongly positively associated with play skills, joint attention, and negatively associated with autism symptomatology. Given the positive relationship imitation has with social communication, language ability, and play, it is crucial to focus intervention on teaching and increasing imitation. Successful interventions targeting motor imitation have used a variety of strategies including prompting, reinforcement, visual cues, video modeling, peer modeling, and contingent imitation. Most strategies can be classified as either a traditional behavior intervention (TBI) or a naturalistic developmental behavioral intervention (NDBI). TBIs are based strictly on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and often use components of Discrete Trial Training (DTT) to teach imitation. NDBIs are behavioral in nature, meaning that behavior analytic strategies such as shaping are incorporated, but these interventions take place in natural settings, leverage natural reinforcers, and are informed by typical developmental sequences and developmentally appropriate practice. While TBIs and NDBIs have each successfully been used to teach immediate motor imitation to children with ASD within the intervention context, the goal of intervention for intervention is to increase imitation that can be exhibited spontaneously, without specific instructions or prompts. Although research supports the use of each type of intervention in teaching motor imitation, research directly comparing each intervention’s effects on generalized imitation that occurs outside of the intervention context is lacking. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine and compare the effects of a TBI and a NDBI on generalized imitation in young children with ASD. A randomized controlled trial was used to compare the effects of these two separate interventions in 12 children.


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