The importance of imitation in ABA:
Imitation is an important foundational skill and pre-requisite skill to vocal language.
Children learn the language structure and the individual words through imitation. Imitation is a crucial aspect of skill development and a big focus in an ABA program especially for younger children who aren’t yet vocal. By the time babies are 8 months old they’ll start copying familiar gestures such as clapping and waving.
A common way to teach children with autism to imitate involves having the child respond to the adult’s prompt to “Do this”, helping the child imitate the adult’s actions, and then rewarding the child’s correct attempt with a “reinforcer”, which could be a food or access to a favourite toy or movie.
The imitation method of teaching focuses on breaking apart skills into components, providing the learner with a model of the target behavior, and rewarding the learner for demonstrating the response immediately after the model.
A big focus in ABA is to first work on gross motor imitation targets such as clapping hands or waving bye bye, as well as, working on having the child imitate actions with objects such as pushing a car or banging a drum. Once these targets are mastered only then can we move on to expecting the child to imitate sounds. Working on lots of oral motor imitation targets is also important to help the child master a sound but also to strengthen the muscles required for speech.
Once every single consonant and vowel is under what we call “SD control” we can move on to blends and then meaningful words. Using the PROMPT methodology to elicit vocal sounds is a wonderful way to make it easier for the learner who is struggling with the speech motor planning of sounds and words.
Children learn from their peers through imitation and if imitation is not yet mastered, a child wont benefit enough from a school environment, as children imitate their peers. Once imitation is taught we look for a typical setting so that we can facilitate the children in such an environment, where they can continue to imitate and model typically developing children. Grouping children with language delays or with ASD together does not create the best learning opportunities. Rather, finding a social setting for them to model typical peers is advised for best outcomes.
The key to success – hours and hours of ABA using the child’s highest reinforcer to teach them imitation targets and those foundational skills they missing to catch up to their peers