By Nicole Hegewald
Nicole Caldwell, M.Ed. wrote a blog, November 29, 2009, posing an intriguing question. While it is nearly impossible to answer, Caldwell wonders if children with autism choose not to imitate people in situations where there is little or no personal significance. She recalls an experience where an autistic child imitated her after she demonstrated a new way to play. When the outcome made playing with his toys more fun the child had no qualms with repeating the action.
Are they smart enough to know how,
but don’t see the point?
“There was no need to show him repeatedly and give him rewards for imitating. He was able to do this on his own,” she writes.
The boy seemed to enjoy the falling motion of a toy that he had in his hands. Caldwell proceeded to skim the toy down a slide. The boy had no trouble dropping the toy person down the slide again and again. He even expanded his play to driving a car off a ramp and playing with other toys in a similar fashion.
“If you think about it, what exactly is the point of imitating someone clapping their hands while just sitting at the table, other than to get your snack reward?” Caldwell asks.
Caldwell speculates what the value of sitting at a desk and clapping is, and wonders if a child with autism can’t comprehend imitating actions that aren’t personally meaningful. She observes that when normally developing children imitate actions they aren’t always meaningful actions.
“Why don’t many children with Autism imitate? Is it because they don’t have the social understanding to imitate just for the sake of imitating? Are they smart enough to know how, but don’t see the point? Do they imitate only when they can see the practical purpose for doing so? Can it sometimes be advantageous for students with Autism to lack the desire to imitate their peers (in cases of teasing, bullying, drug use, and other “not too smart” behaviors)?”
I agree with Caldwell that this needs to be thoroughly investigated as well as other questions that arise. There are currently no answers to any of these questions. The public needs to be made aware of these observations and take interest in the outcome. It is encouraging to know that there are people like Nicole Caldwell out there keeping their eyes and ears open, doing their best to improve the quality of life for children with autism.