Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) imitate less than typically developing (TD) children; however, the specific features and causes of this deficit are still unclear. The current study investigates the role of joint engagement, specifically children's visual attention to demonstrations, in an object-directed imitation task. This sample was recruited from an early ASD screening study, which allows for an examination of these behaviors prior to formal diagnosis and ASD-specific intervention. Children with ASD imitated less than TD children; children with other developmental delays showed no significant difference from the two other screen-positive groups. Additionally, only the ASD group showed decreased visual attention, suggesting that early visual attention plays a role in the social learning of children with ASD.
Keywords: Autism spectrum disorders; Cognitive development; Developmental disabilities; Imitation; Social learning; Visual attention.