Imitation skills in children

Imitation is considered to be an important skill that helps toddlers to emulate gross motor skills, speech and other important skills from adults. It is a vital skill that helps the child to master other skills quickly and efficiently from adults.

Imitation skills are categorized depending on wanted skill and behavior. For this purpose, first the skills that the child needs to acquire should be determined. Many children with autism have speech disorders, for instance. They are not able to acquire speech practice by themselves. Sound imitation method should be used on these children.

One typical way to teach an autistic child to imitate includes allowing the child respond to an adult’s request to do something specific with the adult showing the child exactly what that action is. Once the child does as asked (and correctly), the adult would then reward the child with something called a reinforcer, like food or a favorite toy or activity. This technique can be repeated again and again, using different rewards.

It is observed that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) lack these imitation skills. The accurate reason behind this is not still found however different studies has shown that this can be due to damage or dysfunction of mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are those kinds of nerves that gets activated when a person going to engage imitation. Different studies have shown that these mirror neurons are either damaged or have dysfunction in autistic population. Due to this, ASD population might lack certain skills like a) empathy, b) learning , c) imitation. And as we know brain cells once damaged cannot be recovered but there something else that can be done. You can train its near neurons to do the function of damaged neuron with proper training.

Different studies have come up with a hierarchy in which brain master imitation. According to studies speech is the most complex imitation that brain follows. Before that, brain should master other simple imitation skills like fine motor skills, gross motor skills and other imitation using objects.

Some prerequisite before teaching imitation

Make sure that your child has attained adequate sitting tolerance. Only if the child has mastered this skill you can make the child look at your movements.

Next make sure that the child has mastered the ability to look at you when you do this activity. You can get attention of your child by exaggerating your face expressions or sticking some attractive bindhis on your face or wearing an eye mask. You can think of any method to make the child look at your face.

He or she also should have adequate eye tracking skills, object identification. Eye tracking can be improved by using the child’s high interest or lightening toys or bubbles.

Technique to improve imitation skills in autistic children

Make the child sit facing the clinician or mother. Make sure that you are ready with a rhyme that your child is interested.  Initially prompt has to be given to make your child copy your action. When you observe favourable response reward your child. This reward can be his favourite toy or something tangible or interesting stickers. Then gradually reduce the prompt and support given to your child and see if the child can imitate your movements independently. Then gradually try to improve your child imitation in objects. This can be done by introducing new toys to your child. Initially show how to use it and then see if your child can imitate it .if not help your child by providing prompt. Gradually reduce your prompt then see if he or she can do it independently. Then move to oral movements. Certain oral movements like asking the child how the car does goes and asking him or her to show how you blow can facilitate oral imitation. It is after this you can go to verbal imitation.


Once the child master this skill make sure that the child generalise it. Generalisation means the child is able to imitate things that are not thought in class. for this give activities of imitation in academics and in his or her day to day situation other than the class setup. This should be embedded with adequate prompt. And never forget to praise your child for the correct imitation. Also this praising and prompting has to be gradually faded according to situation.