Importance of Imitation Skills in Autism
3 min · Education
July 18, 2023

Importance of Imitation Skills in Autism

Children with autism spectrum disorder do not have a natural learning process. They cannot learn behaviors with their own experiences. Many experts believe that this disorder can be rehabilitated, although it does not have a cure. Behavioral patterns that other children learn with their own experiences and learning abilities can be acquires by children with autism with rehabilitation.

Role modeling and imitation are important elements to learning processes of children. Every child has a role model. However, imitation skills and role modeling is much more important for children with autism. Hence, for children to be able to acquire certain behavior, they need to imitate. Children with autism struggle with understanding abstract information, but they can successfully imitate behavior they are shown during their learning process.

Categorizing Imitation Skills

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.

If the child is lacking behavioral rather than speech abilities, functional practices should be involved. However, complex actions like holding fork-spoon may take time. Main purpose of functional actions is to help children acquire motor skills. The sooner the autism is detected and rehabilitation starts, the more successful the results of functional actions will be.

Imitation skills are categorized as follows.

1. Depending on place it shows on body

  • Object imitation
  • Motor imitation
  • Sound imitation
  • Verbal imitation

2. Depending on duration

  • Immediate Imitation
  • Deferred Imitation
  • Generalized Imitation

3. Depending on the function type

  • Goal-oriented Imitation
  • Selective Imitation
  • Rational Imitation
  • Cognitive Imitation

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Importance of Acquiring Imitation Skills

Operant conditioning has an essential place in education and rehabilitation process of individuals with autism. Rehabilitations in this principle enable the child to be positively motivated and the learning process to accelerate. This principle is also important in imitation skills. When the child completes an action that he is wanted to imitate he is rewarded, and when he does not, his behavior is corrected.

As stated, children with autism do not have normal educational activities. It may not be possible for them to learn certain functions, behavioral patterns, language and information by themselves. Thus, they need to have a role model. This is the purpose of imitation skills. Children are presented with a role model and this way they acquire certain functions and skills.

Social Function of Imitation

Imitation is an essential for every child’s learning process. It also enables socializing besides learning language and certain behaviors and functions. Imitating behaviors of parents and reactions of parents towards them are infants’ first social experiences. This is how they build relations with others in the first place. Imitation does not only accelerates the learning process. It also enables a social relation with therapist and contributes to socialize. In group imitation sessions, social development of children should be efficiently handled. Individuals that are rehabilitated through imitation skills are known to develop communication skills.

Learning Function of Imitation

Imitation is an efficient way of learning. Not only in childhood, it is also an effective method to acquire various skills in adulthood. Children with autism can acquire their behaviors by imitating their role models. When imitations become constant, language and motor skills will be permanent. Also, it would be much more easier for children that learn by imitation to discover the world.




Last updated: 12 March 2021


This article is examined by Clinical Child Psychologist and Ph. D. Researcher Kevser Çakmak, and produced by Otsimo Editorial Team.

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This post does not provide medical advice. See Additional Information.