Understanding Mirroring in Autism

Autism, a complex neurodevelopmental disorder, manifests itself in various ways, affecting social interaction, communication, and behaviour. This would mean that no two people with Autism are the same. One characteristic feature often noticed in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a phenomenon known as mirroring. Mirroring in autism refers to the tendency of copying the actions, speech patterns, or behaviours of others around them. They may mirror neurotypical behaviours to “blend in” and avoid judgement or social exclusion. 

Mirroring can be used as a form of learning with people with ASD. Typically, individuals learn by observing and copying the behaviours and actions of those around them, especially during early childhood. This process helps individuals attain essential social and communication skills. For individuals with autism, this aspect of mirroring can be particularly prominent, as they may rely more heavily on copying as a learning mechanism.

Mirroring as a Coping Mechanism

Mirroring in autism, can also serve as a coping mechanism. In social situations, individuals with ASD may feel overwhelmed by the demands of social interaction. In an attempt to navigate in these situations, they might mirror the behaviours of others as a way to fit in or appear more “typical.” This can be seen as a strategy to reduce anxiety and navigate social complexities.

Another coping mechanism that some people with ASD may adopt is mirroring someone’s calm and composed demeanour to help reduce their own anxiety. This can typically happen in environments where there is a sensory overload or stimulation. 

Another type of mirroring is motor mirroring. Motor mirroring involves copying physical movements, gestures, or postures, hand gestures, body language, or facial expressions. This type of mirroring can often be unconscious. Echolalia (a bit like echoing) is a distinct form of mirroring, which involves the repeating of words, phrases, or sounds heard from others. It can be immediate or delayed, and it serves various functions for individuals with autism, one of which helps to process and communicate information.

Scripting

Scripting, is another function of mirroring and refers to the repetition of scripted or memorised phrases from television shows, movies, or books. This form of mirroring can provide individuals with autism with a predictable and structured way to engage in conversations. It can also serve as a means of expressing their thoughts or emotions when finding the right words is challenging.Although mirroring is sounding like a positive way to help with social integration, it also has its implications. Mirroring can limit their ability to create and sustain meaningful conversations, which means it could come across as lacking authenticity in conversations. As an example, someone with ASD, may rely on ‘scripting’ as a way of communicating, when struggling to find the right words. Mirroring may also lead to a loss of their own individual expression and reduce creativity.  It can also be incredibly frustrating for the person with ASD to not be able to read or understand someone’s facial expressions, body language, gestures, puns etc and can cause anxiety.

Mirroring in autism is a complex phenomenon with both positive and negative implications. Understanding mirroring in its various forms, and its role in social interaction, is crucial for providing effective support and promoting the well-being of individuals with autism. By recognising mirroring as a natural response to social challenges, we can work toward creating inclusive and supportive environments where individuals with ASD can thrive while retaining their individuality.