Monkey See, Monkey Do: Kids with Autism May Be Smarter than You

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.

Picture of car flying off ramp by Kenneth Hynek on flickr~

Picture courtesy of Kenneth Hynek on flickr~

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)?”

Photo curtesy of woodleywonderworks on flickr

Photo courtesy of woodleywonderworks on flickr~

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.

This entry was posted in Autism Awareness, Autism Causes, Autism Diagnosis, Autism Education, Autism Media Coverage, Autism Research, Autism Resources, Autism Symptoms, Autism Treatment and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.


  1. Posted December 31, 2009 at 4:22 pm | Permalink
  2. Sarah
    Posted January 1, 2010 at 5:48 am | Permalink

    My 6 year old daughter is Autistic, and we have bee to numerous appointments where they try to get her to mimic various actions and there are many of them that she just refuses to even try, and many of her teachers have commented on the fact that she is alot more capable of tasks than previously thought when she is intrested in the task they are doing. We have had large amount of trouble educating her,and have found the best way to engage her at home is to think outside the box tke her obbsessions and use them to engage her. his takes alot of imagination sometimes but has suprising results and things we previously thought she was not capable of doing she is suddenly great at.

  3. Cristy
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    I believe this to be the case with my child. She didn’t walk on time. But got so excited on day that she walked to me, in few minutes she was running around the room with ease. We believed that she just didn’t see the need it it untill that moment. You can ask her a question & she won’t answer unless she wants what you’re asking her about, or if she wants you to stop doing something she’ll say “no!” If she doesn’t have a personal need to do something, she won’t do it at all.

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