We have all seen or heard a young child mimic an action or sound, and one of the most effective ways to teach a child a new skill is through modeling and imitation. This might look like a child mimicking their parents waving their hands, saying ‘hello,’ moving a toy train, or smiling. Children will typically develop this skill by the age of eight months, and they will continue to advance with their imitation skills up until approximately 10 or 24 months. Since children spend the most amount of time with their parents during these early years of development, parents are extremely influential in the development of imitation skills. In addition to parents encouraging their children to imitate at home, therapeutic preschool programs can also help with this skill.
Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other developmental delays experience challenges with developing imitation skills. Since a therapeutic preschool program will usually maintain a low student-to-teacher ratio, children can receive more personalized attention with key developmental skills, including imitation, throughout the school day. A therapeutic preschool program may also incorporate ABA therapy strategies into their daily routines, which can be extremely beneficial for students who are on the autism spectrum. While imitation skills may seem to be non-critical skills, in comparison to communication, for example, difficulties with imitation skills can impact other areas of development.
If a child has challenges with imitation skills, they may also experience challenges with their play and language skills, as these skills are all closely related. As children move through stages of early childhood development, their imitation skills will become more advanced, eventually leading to back-and-forth imitation with their parent or therapeutic preschool teacher. While imitation does not always involve spoken words, these back-and-forth exchanges are helping the child build a foundation for speech and language; they are starting to understand the cycle of communication exchanges.
If a child is struggling to imitate the actions of other people (e.g. waving your hand) or the actions that other people make with an object (e.g. moving a toy train), a child may also experience challenges in developing play skills. This connection is significant, because play skills are closely related to social skill development in young children.
In a therapeutic preschool program, an ABA therapist may spend additional one-on-one time with a child who is delayed in their imitation skills. A preschool program also provides many opportunities for the child to develop their play and social skills in a group setting (with peers), which may help to build strong imitation skills. To help teach imitation skills, parents and therapists can use positive reinforcement or high-interest toys, which can be motivating for young children. It may also be helpful to start by imitating the child to model the behavior. Some parents or therapists may also use cues to signal to their child to imitate.
Do you think your child could benefit from learning in the group setting of a therapeutic preschool program? Contact CST Academy at 773-620-7800 to learn more about our therapeutic preschool program in Chicago that incorporates ABA therapy, feeding therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy strategies.