Some researchers have suggested that using a mirror may help children with autism who are having difficulty learning motor imitation. A mirror provides visual feedback to the child about how his or her body looks when imitating motor actions. This may be particularly helpful when doing movements that are hard for the child to see on his or her own body, such as facial expressions.
In a 2015 study, researchers worked on imitation skills with a young child with autism. Attempts had been made to teach him imitation, but they had been unsuccessful so far. The researchers compared his imitation skills when they used a mirror and when they didn't.
For the teaching sessions with the mirror, a free-standing mirror was placed standing on the floor in front of the child. A therapist sat behind and to the right of the child. In the teaching sessions without the mirror, the therapist and child sat at a table facing each other.
The study found that use of the mirror was associated with more rapid learning of imitation skills. It is important to keep in mind that the study was conducted with just one child, so this method may not work for every child. The authors did say that there was a previous study that also had success using mirror to teach imitation, so that gives some additional support to the strategy. The authors also discussed some other limitations to the study, and those can be found by reading the article. For a more detailed description of the methods used in the study, please read the complete study:
"Do Mirrors Facilitate Acquisition of Motor Imitation in Children Diagnosed with Autism?"
By Scott A. Miller, Nicole M. Rodriguez, and Ami J. Rourke
Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis
2015, Volume 48, Issue 1, Pages 194-198