One of the first things your Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapist may work on with your child is imitation. This is a program your therapist teaches if your child is babbling and attempting speech but won’t speak when asked a question, or cannot repeat something.
Being able to imitate somebody is so important for learning social skills, mands and how to learn from others. And since children with Autism learn a little differently than their peers, it’s vital to teach them this key skill in a way they can comprehend.
How an Imitation Program Works in ABA
If you want to teach your child new words and new behaviors they have to copy those behaviors, right? If they can’t copy the behavior, then they can’t learn how to do the behavior.
This is where the therapist steps in and shows a behavior or phrase to a child. This could be something silly and totally out of context, like, “say itsy-bitsy”. The child repeats this, and gets a reward. Later on another child might hop, and your child may imitate as they have learnt how to.
This program is also used in every day context, such as, “say I want juice” or “a cookie” to receive the desired item. Instead of whining, repeating your sentence or gesturing, the child will begin to learn to say “I want juice” instead.
But My Child Can’t Imitate At All!
When your child is completely non-verbal and has a hard time saying anything at all, words are broken down into pieces and taught over time. For example, “say mommy”. The sound “mo” is taught first and rewarded, then mom, then mommy.
What Issues Could Arise?
There are a couple of behavioral ‘issues’ your child could pick up from this program, but nothing that won’t be reversed with ease.
We had an issue recently where an autistic child repeated everything. The therapist would say, “do this” and touch their head, and he would say, “do this” and touch his head. This is a common problem in autistic children who practice echolalia (repeating phrases automatically). It can be fixed easily! Our therapist simply dropped the phrase, “do this” and so did he!
ABA is an excellent therapy for teaching a child with Autism the skills he or she will need to move through life, and learn from their experiences. Imitation program are just one of the skills implemented to encourage this.