What is Imitation?
Imitation is an important skill for children to have as part of overall communication development. Both turn taking and Imitation are useful (if not fundamental) tools that help children acquire their first words.
As parents and caregivers, you have the opportunity to respond to a child’s communication attempts. This begins from ‘Day One’ of a child’s life. A baby cries, we pick them up (or feed them, change their nappy). This teaches baby that when they cry, laugh, or babble, they get a response. When and how we respond reinforces their actions and vocalizations. When we respond by imitating their actions and vocalizations, it shows that we are aware of what they have done or said. Over time and with many interactions, children become much more aware of us.
Imitation occurs at a motor function level as well as on a speech level. Speech is a complex task that involves motor movement and also cognitive skills.
Imitating movements requires good eye contact and joint attention. As a child learns the concept of “copying” a basic action this leads to the imitation of sounds etc.
To demonstrate the power of imitation, let me tell you a little about a young man that I was seeing (about 4 years old). He had a chromosomal disorder. In addition to significant behavioural concerns, when I first met him he had no way of communicating his needs, wants, frustrations. It didn’t take long to realize that this young man didn’t have these fundamental skills (joint attention, imitation, turn taking) that would help us to develop a method of communication for him. He didn’t imitate any motor action and it was very difficult to engage him in any toy, play routine or pretty much anything. He DID however love to run around and throw himself on the floor. Shortly after we started therapy, he ran out of the clinic room and lay on the floor in the waiting area. Pride aside, I got down and lay right in front of him so we were face to face. He looked up at me like I was the strangest thing ever. I tapped my hand on the carpet and waited. He tapped his hand on the carpet. I tapped my hand of the carpet and waited. He tapped his hand on the carpet. I tapped my hand on the carpet. We were off in a turn taking interaction! Basic imitation skills opened so many new doors for therapy with this young man.
We can use imitation early on by imitating what we see a child doing. For example, if you see a baby throwing a block on the floor, you throw a block on the floor. If he bangs two blocks together in his hands, you pick up two toys and do the same. If she claps her hands, you clap your hands. In time, your child will become more aware of you. As you continue to imitate your child, they will eventually imitate you. As this happens, you can add new movements to the routine and play.
Sound and Word Imitation
The same principles that apply to motor imitation, largely apply to the imitation of sounds and words. When your baby coos and babbles, you can try to imitate their sounds. If your child says “Oooh”, you say “Oooh”. Once this process is established, you can start to add new sounds. As children grow older and start using words, you can respond by imitating, interpreting and adding new language.
Here are some ideas for sound imitation:
|Household objects/toys||Food and Kitchen|
|Clock – “Tick Tock”||Pop- Corn – “pop pop”|
|Phone – “Ring Ring”||Hot foods – “hot hot”|
|Microwave – “Ding Ding”||Tasty food – “mm mmm”|
|Broom – “Swish Swish”||Bad food – “Yuck Yuck” or “Blah”|
|Vacuum – “Brrmm”|
Dog – “Woof Woof”
|Train – “Tchoo Tchoo”|
|Cow – “Moo”||Car – “Brrm Brrm”|
|Duck – “Quack quack”||Police Car – “Wee oh”|
|Pig – “Oink Oink”||Truck “Beep Beep”|
|Chicken – “Bruck Bruck”||Boat – “Puh Puh Puh”|
This article was written by our speech pathologist Jenna Butterworth who is a Speech Pathology Australia member.
If you have concerns regarding your child’s speech and language development, you should consult with a speech pathologist for specific advice or call ENT Wellbeing Sydney.