Imitation “is an advanced behavior whereby an individual observes and replicates another’s behavior.

Imitation is also a form of social learning that leads to the “development of traditions, and ultimately our culture. It allows for the transfer of information (behaviours, customs, etc.) between individuals and down generations without the need for genetic inheritance.

“The word imitation can be applied in many contexts, ranging from animal training to politics. The term generally refers to conscious behavior; subconscious imitation is termed mirroring.

This means that learning is social, and for babies, involves imitating the people around them. Imitation provides children with the opportunity to practice and master new skills. Imitation also serves as a basis for the development of empathy, or the ability to experience what another person is feeling.

What Is Imitation?

Imitation involves a child’s ability to copy others’…

Actions with objects (such as banging on a drum or pushing a car)

Gestures and body movements (such as clapping hands or waving)

Sounds or words


– Children learn to imitate in infancy. If you watch a baby and his mother interacting, you will likely see both baby and mother imitating each other’s sounds, actions, and facial expressions.

-This back-and-forth imitation is really an early conversation without words, and it helps infants learn to:

Express interest in their caregiver for social reasons (as opposed to expressing basic needs like food or sleep)

Share an emotion with their caregiver

Take turns

Pay attention to their caregiver

Imitation in Children with Autism

-Children with autism often have great difficulty with imitation. Researchers have studied the imitation abilities of children with autism, and the effect this has on other areas of development. They have found that

-their ability to imitate gestures and body movements predicts their language outcomes

-their ability to imitate actions with objects is related to the development of their play skills

-their difficulty with imitating other children’s actions affects their peer play

-they need to develop some imitation skills before they are able to acquire joint attention (the ability to share a focus with another person on an object)

Teaching Imitation

-Many researchers have suggested that imitation is an important focus of intervention for children with autism.

-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. Imitation is drilled repetitively in this way, with the therapist selecting the toys or objects as well as the reinforcers.

Another way to teach imitation involves using a more natural approach. This approach is based on:

Including the child’s interests

Motivating the child to imitate; and

Promoting the social role of imitation.

Children have learned to imitate actions with objects and gestures.

They maintain their skills once the therapy is finished and are able to use the skills in other situations beyond the therapy environment.

Working on imitation in this way has resulted in improvements in other skills, such as children’s ability to imitate language and gestures, their pretend play, joint attention skills (their ability to  share a focus with another person on an object), and social skills

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