As you all know, one of my big interests is in open access to research and in making that research accessible to people that are outside of academia. I was very much taken by the paper “Imitation (rather than core language) predicts pragmatic development in young children with ASD: a preliminary longitudinal study using CDI parental reports” and I asked Carmela Miniscalco, the lead author, if she was willing to write a short introduction for my readers. She very kindly complied and I think it’s very much worth listening to what she has to say.
Children do what parents do…
…and not what they tell them to do. It turns out that the old saying holds true in our study of pragmatic language development.
Parents often worry about their child’s language development and delayed language is the most common cause for parents to seek help from professionals. Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are identified due to absent or delayed language, or loss of meaningful words during their second or third year of life. Core language skills such as vocabulary and syntax may range from nonverbal to above average levels in children with ASD. In contrast, intentional and functional use of pragmatic language skills) appears invariably poor.
The key idea of our article was to use parents’ ratings of their child’s language abilities. We used the MacArthur Communicative developmental Inventories (CDIs) from two time points. The CDI comes in two versions and covers areas such as early words, actions and gestures, expressive language and also include a pragmatic scale.
The result showed that basically all rated areas were associated concurrently and by combining the two versions of the CDI we could examine longitudinal predictors of pragmatic growth. The regression analyses showed that imitation, specifically Imitating adult actions longitudinally predicted pragmatic growth. This imitation includes items such a child’s attempt to put a key in a lock, pound with a hammer and pretending to “read”, activities building on imitation and pretend play.
At the moment we can formulate two possible explanations of this finding; (1) Imitation increases a child’s general social engagement and motivation and/or (2) Imitation may reflect a child’s tendency or willingness to learn the manner in which actions are normative performed. These two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but more research in this area is needed.
In the meantime, our study suggests that it might be important to support and scaffold imitation of adults actions in young children with ASD.
You can read the full thing as a pdf here.