For years scientists have believed children with autism had trouble learning through imitation because of poor motor skills or because they did not pay attention to the action being performed. New research conducted by the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute, however, suggests that poor eye contact in children with ASD relates directly to incorrect social imitation.
The study was conducted using high technology eye-tracking headgear and software that measures the point where a child is actually looking. Children with ASD looked at the person demonstrating something much less often than the typically developing children. Impaired imitation can lead to additional impairments in sharing emotions, pretend play, pragmatic communication, and understanding the emotional states of others.
Successful performance of a task by children with autism, therefore, increases with the amount of time they study the task and is not correlated with their basic motor skills, as previously thought.