Imitation & Autism: The Importance of Imitation Skills in the Process of Learning

Friday, August 10 2018

Clinical Supervisor Nilushi discusses the skill of imitation, which can be a challenge for children with Autism.

L4Life Pedro & Joshy - Importance of Imitation

Imitation involves copying body actions and actions with objects, sounds and words. It is a fundamental skill that is crucial for learning, as well as socialisation. Children with Autism often find imitation quite difficult, affecting various areas of development.

The main skill areas that are affected are:

  • Eye contact: This is a social skill that allows a child to connect with another individual by copying them.
  • Gross Motor and Fine Motor Skills: This involves large body movements, such as imitating climbing or jumping, along with smaller body movements, such as pointing and using the correct pencil grip when writing. These skills are predictors for language and speech outcomes.
  • Oral motor/Speech skills: Imitation of mouth and tongue positions leading to an ability to practise various sounds, words and sentences.
  • Language Skills: The ability for a child to imitate appropriate language is important, as this allows us to teach them reciprocal language. Often these are statements that are typical of children in kinder.
  • Drawing Skills: This involves the ability to reference someone else’s drawing and copying.
  • Play Skills: This is the ability to reference another person and copy exactly what they are playing with and how they are playing with that item, also known as parallel play. For example, moving a car back and forth or building the same tower as a peer.
  • Joint attention: The ability to focus on an item that another person is referencing.

These skills are a crucial part of development and highlight the importance of focussing on imitation as a core skill. The ability to imitate another person allows a child with Autism to connect with others, form social relationships and build on their skills by learning from others.

Ideally, children with Autism will learn appropriate skills and behaviour from their peers, as peer relationships are important for kinder and school. In the classroom, imitative skills allow a child to follow their peers, even if they do not hear or understand an instruction from the teacher. Out in the playground, the ability to imitate will allow a child to join in on social games such as hide and seek.

Written by Nilushi Goonetilleke, a Clinical Supervisor with Learning For Life