Autistic Kids Not Prone to Contagious Yawning???

Filed Under (Activism, Autism and The Media, Autism Theories) by Estee on 17-09-2010

“The news
Just came in
From the County of Keck
That a very small bug
By the name of Van Vleck
Is yawning so wide
You can look down his neck.

This may not seem
Very important, I know.
But it is. So I’m bothering
Telling you so.

A yawn is quite catching, you see. Like a cough.
It just takes one yawn to start other yawns off.
NOW the news has come in that some friends of Van Vleck’s
Are yawning so wide you can look down their necks.”

How ironic that Adam and are reading Dr. Seuss’ Sleep Book nightly, these days, and I open The Globe and Mail to find a reiteration that autistic kids are not prone to contagious yawning.

I have to yawn. While I haven’t look at the actual study itself, it seems that “The diminished tendency to engage in a contagious yawn suggests autistic kids’ may miss subtle cues that tie them emotionally to others,’ the researchers write in the Journal of Child Development.” (The Globe and Mail, p. L5, September 17, 2010).

I’ll just say this: While autistic kids may have some difficulty with their imitation skills, yawning seems spawned by something more physiological. Adam yawns when I yawn… a LOT. Perhaps he’s part of that 11 % of autistic children who do yawn according to Geraldine Dawson. Adam will not yawn, however, “on command.” Sometimes I wonder if my little autie just doesn’t see the sense of it. I mean, some things we ask our children to imitate can be kind of silly. Therefore, I would not compare contagious yawning skills to pure imitation skills.  I’m not certain if the comparison should be used in determining if autistic children can figure out those “subtle cues.” As I said, natural contagious yawning for Adam comes, well, naturally.

Science has not at all discovered the nature of yawning. I feel compelled to qualify this just in case our autistic children may be prematurely described by yet another, interesting, but perhaps not quite precise theory. Yet, that’s what we get in the autism community, don’t we? A helluva a lot of theories, and autistic kids are the prime target.

“The yawn of that one little bug is still spreading!
According to latest reports, it is heading
Across the wide fields, through the sleeping night air,
Across the whole country toward every which where.
And people are gradually starting to say,
‘I feel rather drowsy. I’ve had quite a day.”


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About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (, and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.