The development of imitation during the second year of life plays an important role in domains of sociocognitive development such as language and social learning. Deficits in imitation ability in persons with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) from toddlerhood into adulthood have also been repeatedly documented, raising the possibility that early disruptions in imitation contribute to the onset of ASD and the deficits in language and social interaction that define the disorder. This study prospectively examined the development of imitation between 12 and 24 months of age in 154 infants at familial risk for ASD and 78 typically developing infants who were all later assessed at 36 months for ASD or other developmental delays. The study established a developmental measure of imitation ability and examined group differences over time, using an analytic Rasch measurement model. Results revealed a unidimensional latent construct of imitation and verified a reliable sequence of imitation skills that was invariant over time for all outcome groups. Results also showed that all groups displayed similar significant linear increases in imitation ability between 12 and 24 months and that these increases were related to individual growth in both expressive language and ratings of social engagement but not in fine motor development. The group of children who developed ASD by age 3 years exhibited delayed imitation development compared with the low-risk typical outcome group across all time-points, but were indistinguishable from other high-risk infants who showed other cognitive delays not related to ASD.
- Early identification
- Rasch analysis
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Life-span and Life-course Studies