Building Imitation Skills in Toddlers with Autism or Showing Signs of Autism

I have been featuring a lot of guests but I am here solo to talk to you about a critical skill featured in my book, Turn Autism Around. We are talking about building imitation skills in toddlers with autism or showing signs of autism.

I discovered I should talk about this pivotal skill when it was asked during a Q & A call for members of my paid course. I created a short video blog on this topic and in this episode, I am sharing the incredible importance of this skill as well as the 4 steps involved in building it.

Why is imitation important?
All babies, toddlers, and children learn most of their language and social skills through imitation. By 8 months, a typical baby should be imitating simple actions such as clapping hands or tapping the table. By age 2, a typical toddler should be imitating everything. Delays in these skills can be seen in children with autism, it doesn’t always mean autism but any delay can and should be treated. Imitation is critical for language, play, and social skills. So, what are the 4 steps?

It’s important to assess on command as well as naturally. Watching the child, if they see their sibling or peer play with a toy, will they do the same thing with the toy? Assessing on command involves specifically modeling the motion. Start by saying, “Do This!” and then modeling the desired action. I go over the skills to be assessed, how, and in what order. You can find my assessment forms online as a book bonus for free with or without book purchase.

Planning and Teaching:
My Early Learner Programs, highlighted in my book. are a variety of programs and activities that are beneficial in building and teaching imitation skills. I reference specific materials necessary to implement effective teaching and of these skills. It’s important to use the child’s natural environment but also dedicate time to skill work at the table, always keeping it fun! For a visual example of how to teach imitation check out the video blog that goes along with this episode here.

Easy Data Collection:
I try to focus on not getting bogged down by data.  My recommendation is to pick 3-5 different targets per program to take data on.

With these steps, the specific activities and the personal experiences I share in this episode, you can effectively understand where the child’s imitation skills stand and how to build them up. Remember that imitation skills can build behavior momentum and are a pivotal skill to all learning.

Always be gentle, never over prompt, and have fun with it!


  • Why are imitation skills important?
  • The 4 Steps: Assessment, Planning, Teaching, Easy Data Collection
  • How imitation skills can build behavior momentum.
  • About the Turn Autism Around program
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RESOURCES (Sign up for a free workshop online for parents and professionals)
Teaching Object Imitation to Children with Autism
#090: Apraxia and Autism: What is Apraxia of Speech | Interview with Tamara Kasper
Autism Video Modeling
#029: Talk Tools & Speech Therapy for Autism with Mags Kirk
Delayed Echolalia and Scripting in Children with Autism

Transcript for Podcast Episode: 129
Building Imitation Skills in Toddlers with Autism or Showing Signs of Autism
Hosted by: Dr. Mary Barbera

Mary: You're listening to the Turn Autism around podcast episode number one hundred and twenty nine, I'm your host, Dr. Mary Barbera. And today it's just me talking all about one of the most critical skills for children with signs of autism and with older children with moderate to severe autism. And this critical skill is imitation. If children are lacking imitation skills, we need to teach them. So today I'm talking all about how to develop this important skill. Before I get to this, I just wanted to mention my new book which heavily references this imitation skill, and we're going to be talking about that today. Turn Autism Around an Action Guide for Parents of Young Children with Early Signs of Autism came out March 30th, 2021. It's already reached Best-Selling status in a number of categories, as we speak, it is in the top 10 autism books. And so if you haven't picked it up yet, you can get it in hardback Kindle and on Audible with me reading it, check for all the details and for free book resources. With or without book purchase, you can go to OK, let's get to how to teach imitation skills to children with signs of autism and children with autism.

Welcome to the Turn Autism Around podcast. For both parents and professionals in the autism world who want to turn things around, be less stressed and lead happier lives. And now your host, autism behavior analyst and bestselling author, Dr. Mary Barbera.

Mary: Welcome back to this episode. I'm excited to be doing a solo show for a change. I have gotten myself into doing mostly interviews. And this topic of imitation came up in a recent Q and A call for my paid online courses members. We do a monthly call and one of the questions was how to teach imitation skills. And I realized at that point I did a whole video blog. It's about, I don't know, five or ten minutes and that's going to be linked in the show notes. So to get all the show notes, to watch this podcast, to watch that video blog with that demonstration. We're talking because this is a podcast and most people are listening and not watching. We're going to just talk generally about imitation. But when the member asks a question about imitation, I realized that I had very little information out there. Demonstration's how to teach imitation or a whole podcast on the

importance of imitation. So that prompted me to create the video blog and also to create this podcast, because it is arguably even more important than talking skills. It's really critical when babies are developing. Their first imitation is is babbling back and forth, smiling back and forth, clapping, doing little gestures. And if that doesn't develop, then you get toddlers who are also not picking up naturally on imitation to build one word utterances and get verbal imitation or echoic. So we're going to talk

all about how to assess and how to teach just in a few minutes. So this probably

won't be a super long episode, but I did want to cover it in a podcast format. And speaking of podcasts, I just looked the other day and we are at the Turn Autism Around podcast has been around for two and a half years at this point, and we just surpassed a half a million downloads. So thank you all who have been listening. I have some great guests that I just interviewed, great guests coming up. I am going to do more solo shows as well and even some hot seats in the future. keep listening. And if you love what you're hearing, I would love a five star review wherever you're listening. So go ahead and help me spread the word. OK, back to imitation. So the the four steps of the Turn Autism Around approach are assessment, planning, teaching and easy data collection so that you can evaluate if what you're doing is working. As I said, this is a critical skill for any babies that need to be taught directly, toddlers and children with autism. Becaue all babies, toddlers and children learn most language and social skills through imitation. It's also really important to develop receptive language skills and then verbal imitation skills. So if you are frustrated because, for example, your child or clients might not be able to touch their head or clap their hands, we call those receptive commands or receptive ID touch the banana. Give me your shoes. Go get your shoes. It is probably related to the fact that they're missing those imitation skills, which can often be the bridge needed for receptive language. So it's easier, for instance, to say do this and actually clap your hands than it is to sit on your own hands and say clap your hands. And this makes sense, because if you think about learning a foreign language, if I were in another country and I didn't have any language, if somebody sat on their hands and said, Oobi Owi Oowi, I would have no idea what they were talking about. But if they imitated clapping their hands and said, Oobi Owi Oowi, I would at least try to clap my hands, not understanding the language. And that's what we're talking about here. There is nothing magical about teaching language. It is all step by step. And it's a behavior that can be shaped. So imitations of behavior that can be shaped and taught language is a behavior that can be shaped and taught. And yes, there are some kids with also other issues like apraxia, but that's not like, oh, my child has apraxia. So they're not going to be able to talk or they're not there. They have motor planning problems. So they're not going to be able to imitate. No, those are going to be barriers and going to be additional concerns, of course, but it's not going to be a rule out. You know, that's your that's your future. And we did do a really great podcast interview with Tamara Kasper, who is both a SLP for many years, as well as a BCBA for many years. So we can link that in the show notes as well. But imitation can and should be taught. And so we're going to talk about exactly how to do that. Imitation of simple actions usually begins about eight months of age with a typically developing toddler, a baby of eight months of age. So eight months, the simple actions should be starting like clapping hands and, you know, tapping the table or making the car go back and forth. These should be developing around, starting to emerge around eight months. But by age two, most typically developing kids are imitating everything. And so this is often very delayed in children with autism. Some children with ADHD are delayed. Some children with Down syndrome or other issues are also delayed with imitation. The fact that you're one or two year old is not imitating doesn't necessarily mean

it's definitely autism. But it is is a red flag and it is any delay can and should be treated. And part of my mission is to empower the parents to assess the situation and to teach their children to imitate and to talk and to play and to improve eating, sleeping, potty training. That's and to reduce tantrums. So imitation is a very big, pivotal skill. And as I said, this is the way kids learn language, social skills, play skills, even the way adults learn skills. For instance, my husband is actually fixing something on his car that he didn't know how to fix. So he went and he got a YouTube clip on fixing the exact problem in his car. He went to Home Depot. He got the the tools that the YouTube clip recommended. And now he's watching the video and he's imitating the guy on the video step by step. And hopefully when I go out there, his car will be fixed and my podcast will be recorded. That is actually imitation. But it's also using another tool called Video Modeling, which I have a video blog on video modeling. And I may be doing an upcoming podcast on video modeling because it is such an important skill as well. So this isn't just for little kids when you're trying to learn a new skill or learn a new language, for example, there will be a lot of imitation skills involved, even tying your shoes or learning a manual task like fixing a car or fixing something. A lot of people are visual learners and kids with autism are are hugely visual in most situations. I know Temple Grandin, who wrote the foreword for my book. She is, you know, the most famous person with autism in the world. And she is a total visual thinker and has written a number of books on that. OK, so I don't think I need to convince anybody that imitation is important. Hopefully you're all on board. And I know in a lot of ways this is very much a review for professionals. It may even be a review for parents listening. But I think as I approach this step by step and actually when you go and watch the video of me showing you step by step with objects so you can actually see it, it's going to even make more sense. So the first step of the Turn Autism Around approach is assessment. And we're talking about assessing imitation. We also have to assess a bunch of other things like language and all kinds of skills and how bad the problem behaviors are. But when we're talking about specifically assessing imitation, we want to ask and answer questions like can a child take an object like a car? If you say do this and make the car go back and forth, can they do that? If you say clap your hands and you clap your hands, can they do this? Or if you're singing a song, if you're happy and you know it, clap your hands. The motions to the songs. Yes, it's a little bit of quote unquote, multiple control in there because you're saying clapping hands and you're doing it. But when you think about little babies and emerging imitation skills, it's going to be things like peekaboo and making your hands go away from your eyes. So those kind of things. So it doesn't have to be like you sit down with your child and they must sit and you must say, do this. When we're assessing, we're assessing. Are they able to do it on command? Are they able to do it naturally? Like if they're a little cut, 15 month old cousin goes to the window and pulls the curtain back and forth and, you know, is kind of playing a game. Will they do the same thing? If they're if they're brother or sister is running into a play house, are they going to run in with them? Are they going to be at story time at the library and be participating with the musical instruments that are being shown? These are all imitation skills and all and really important for you to pay attention to, whether

it's your child or your clients. And then you can sit down with actual objects like a little toy car. I talk in my book and in my online course about the stat, the screening tool for autism and toddlers. And in the stat, they have a couple of imitation tasks that are part of the imitation subtests, because, like I said, lack of imitation skills, especially by two, is a red flag for autism. So in the stat subtests, for instance, you'll have identical matching little cars and you'll take it and you'll run it and say, do this and you'll run it back and forth two times. So in order for the child to, quote unquote pass that test, they need to take the car and their car and also roll it back and forth a couple of times. Now, if they make the car, you know, go up or just push the car off the table, that's not a pass. Fortunately for the stat, you can give them a few tries. It doesn't have to be like, well, they pushed it off. They fail. No, you could work with them. You could actually teach the skill right there and they could get it by the end. That's still a pass. So two tests in the stat are rolling a car back and forth and having them do the same thing and then taking a toy figurine like an elephant or a plastic cow or something and make them hop, hop, hop. So you actually say the stat tells you what to say, but I think it's hop, hop, hop. And the child doesn't have to say hop, hop, hop. They can just hop, hop it a few times and then they pass. So you can also. So if you don't have the stat or you have an older child, you can also like I show in the video in the show notes you can get two identical yellow blocks, for instance, two identical cups, plastic cups and say, do this and you can use your block and put it in the cup and the child needs to do the same thing. So we when we're testing, we want identical objects, not two different cars, not a red block and a yellow block. Clear cups are actually a good idea because it's permanent. You know, the block is in there. So they can also follow along, but also have it in front of them. And that's one of the easiest skills is an object imitation. So if you want to test your child or clients, gather some objects and begin to say, do this and then move the item. The other important thing is you don't just always want to take every time they see a yellow block, the only thing and and a clear cup, the only task is to put it in, because that may become just a learned response. So the other task you might want to do when you have the cups and the yellow blocks out is you may want to take the yellow blocks and put them to the side and also say, do this and flip the cup and they need to flip the cup. There you have two responses with the same objects, and then you might want to have them put the yellow block on top of the cup again saying do this and then moving and putting the yellow block. So hopefully those of you that are listening understand what I'm saying. I think it's easier to see it than to than to listen so but object imitation. And that's the way to assess. And then we're going to get into teaching and it's kind of the same. So the progression of imitation, if you do have to teach. Well, let's talk about step number two before we get into teaching. OK, so step number one is assessment. You're not just looking at object imitation. You're also looking at can your child gross motor movements, can they clap? If you say do this and clap your hands, can they clap their hands without a prompt, without help, without making their hands go? They need to do a few responses, not just clap and count them as good. Can they touch body parts with you saying do this, do this and touch their head? You can probably count, touch your head. But one of the mistakes that I made very early on that I probably talked

about, but let me just reiterate it, because it's a really important point. Back when my son Lucas was three and being evaluated, I was asked to fill out a form of what his skills were. And when it came to receptive language touching body parts, I wrote down that he could touch his head, his toes, his nose and his belly or something like that. And then the rest of the body parts I put no. So when they were assessing Lucas, they couldn't get him to touch his again. They were testing receptive, not imitation. So they were sitting on their hands and saying, touch toes, touch nose, touch belly, touch head. And he wasn't doing it. So he didn't understand "Oobi Owi Ooi", Right. And then they came out and they said, we're not able to get Lucas to touch his body parts. You say you can touch head, toes, nose and belly. Can you show us how you are doing that? And this is before I was a behavioral analyst. And so I said, oh, yeah, sure. Well, here's the thing. You have to do it in the same water. And then we sing the Barney song and I show him. So I said, this is the way he does it. Lucas, first you touch your head and then your toes and then your belly and then your nose. And you can see how he was actually imitating those actions. And they went in the same order to the song. But when they were done out of order with no imitation and no song, he couldn't do it. So be really important. If you're going to mix, you touch your head, touch your nose. It's probably cleaner. If you just say do this first with objects, then with body parts, commands like do this and you clap your hands. So If you're a therapist listening and you're familiar with, like known boxes or the way to test or what to write on a probe sheet, you would say do this and in parentheses, clap hands and in parentheses, tap table, parentheses, touch head or belly. And you, as a parent or professional, when you would see that that response to do this with something in parentheses, then you wouldn't say the thing with parentheses. I did say that imitation skills are usually a bridge to receptive ability. So on the propitiate or on your card, you could say touch head with imitation and that could be a mixed, receptive and imitation skill. That's fine. But when you're assessing, it's really cleaner to kind of split the opera. And so we know what the child can do in a job. Right. So when you're assessing imitation, my my

recommendation would be show the child exactly what you want them to do using the the command. Do this and then you get a clean record of what they can do. And maybe your child or clients have really good imitation skills. And we're going to use

that as a bridge when we teach imitation play social skills and verbal imitation to get them talking or talking more. So the first thing to assess is objects, then gross motor clapping, tapping table with both hands. I do find that it's easiest to start with big motions that also involve sound to get their direct, get their attention and then fine motor imitation usually comes next. That could be a thumbs up or putting to index finger pointers together or wiggling fingers. So you'd say do this and wiggle your fingers, do this and put your two index fingers together again. If you're trying to document that and if you go through a whole list and they can get index fingers pointing together, they can do a thumbs up, they can do wiggle fingers on imitation with the command. Do this, then write those down. You can make known cards with those if that is necessary. So objects, then gross motor, then fine motor. The next imitation skill to look now if they can't even do play skills or gross motor. A couple responses, you can stop there with your assessment, because that's where we're

going to start. Only if kids can really do gross objects, gross motor, then you would check and progress to fine motor. Then you would progress and check and assess head movements. Shaking head no, shaking head yes, rolling your head around. And then you would check do this and you would check all motor opening mouth making your teeth go together like a hard smile, sticking your tongue out. And all along, even when we teach these skills of object and gross motor, if we are needing to give some physical prompts, they are always gentle. They're always as

noninvasive as possible. If a child is reacting by trying to push your hands away, that's a sign that you're over. Prompting the skills are the right skills to work on that. A whole bunch of things. But obviously with head motions, you're you're going to have to wait till a child is imitating fluently with a bunch of other skills before you even attempt it. And I would never recommend making a child shake their head no or yes by physically prompting them. I would never recommend putting your hands on the kid's faces or mouths to try to get them to open their mouth or say, you know, cheese or anything, unless you are working with a trained SLP or someone who's trained in a prompt method or a talk tools method. We have a whole show with Mag's Kirk, who's also duly certified SLP and BCBA, who is a talk tool certified professional and with talk tools, there is some not much, but there is some helping a child blow on a whistle or suck from a straw or chew or bite down on a block, a soft block of something. So there are procedures that might involve a highly trained, certified professional to put hands to base. But otherwise I do not recommend parents, behavior analysts, you know, are touching kids faces at all. And that's why you have to wait and you have to work on the skills that are easiest first and you have to assess those skills if you get to the point where any of this is to hard, the child can't do it. You stop the assessment and you go to the next step. At the very end of that structure of assessing objects then gross motor, then fine motor then or head movements and or motor, then a lot of times in the back door of some programs have been once you teach a child to open their mouth on imitation, then you start adding open mouth with an AH closed mouth, the hard smile with an E, and if you think about it, a child who is not making those sounds is also probably has a lot of oral motor stuff going on. Also, a lot of feeding issues are very common. We use talk tools with the help of Mag's Kirk and other professionals who were certified to improve feeding, talking and drooling in kids. And so I do think that there is something to be said with all of that. OK, so that is what we want to assess as part of the book bonuses, you will get an assessment form, which will only take you about ten minutes as well as a sample assessment form. Part of that is assessing imitation and you can get those book resources for free with or without a book purchase and OK, the next step of the term autism around approach is step two, which is planning. So we want to once we have our whole one page assessment done also in the book resources, we have our plan, we have our blank plan and our sample plan. And if a child is is not imitating with objects, that's where we want to start. And again, assessing I showed you with the blocks for planning and teaching, we would put object imitation with a variety of objects, not just with one cup or two cups and two yellow blocks. We would pick a variety, which is outlined in the video blog, in the show notes of one twenty nine. So

making a plan if the child can do object imitation pretty fluently but is not imitating actions, you want to probably make sure you have some object limitation to keep it fun and light. Even with the cup in the block, for instance, you can kind of work your way into gross motor imitation by having them put a block in in each cup. You put a block in your cup, they put a block in in their cup and then you could say, do this

and you could cover the block with your hand. So there's kind of a back door into getting some gross motor. And so that might be on the plan as well. OK, and then teaching one thing that I forgot to say for the imitation, I mean, for assessing imitation and making a plan is assessing not just the object imitation and the gross motor and the fine motor and the echoics. Now, most kids, when they are getting diagnosed with autism or you're worried about they can do object imitation, their play skills are very delayed. They are not going to also be able to if you say ball, they can say ball. So say ball. They won't say ball. But some kids do have what we call delayed echolalia and or scripting, which we have done video blog and a podcast, I believe on that. So we can put that in the show notes. But when you are assessing imitation, you should also be assessing verbal imitation in that. If I say ball, can he say ball? Now, when Lucas was little, he couldn't we couldn't do that. I didn't know what echolalia was. I didn't know what scripting was. I didn't know it was a red flag for autism that he did not imitate and did not echo. But the other thing he did do was he had a few little scripts. And I know I've talked about this before, but he had we take him to the museum, he'd say my husband would read, Please Do Not Feed the Ducks, which was a sign at the museum. And my husband would add quack, quack, and he'd run ten feet to the next sign. And and Lucas like to read those little signs with his dad. And then in the middle of the night, he might wake up and say, "please do not feed the duck, quack, quack". And that I didn't know was another red flag for autism. And it was called delayed echolalia or scripting. So that is on the assessment form to see whether they can do immediate echolalia and whether they have delayed echolalia or scripting. It's it's a good sign, even if they can even if they script, because, you know, they can say the words. I didn't know at the time two decades ago how to take that. "Please do not feed the ducks" and turn that into labeling a doc or asking to go to the museum. So I know now how exactly how to do that. It's all outlined in my book and my online courses and these video blogs. So I forgot to mention that assessment. So assessing all of that, making a plan. So your plan is basically your strengths and needs. So if they can't echo and they can't imitate at all, that's definitely a need they might be able to imitate with blocks and cars and that sort of thing. That would be a strength, but a need might be. And they might also script or have delayed echolalia. You can put them in the strengths or the needs. Depends how how much they do that and that sort of thing. But I need would be getting them to echo you because once echoing starts, if you can say I mean, think about that foreign language example again, if you can say this is called and Oobi, if you can hold up a water bottle and say Oobi and the child says Oobi, then you can use transfer trials, which I've talked about, where you hold up the bottle and they you know, if you are in a foreign country and you learn that a water bottle was Oobi, you would pretty much learn that. I say Oobi and I get water and I'm going to need to remember that. And so, as I said, delayed echolalia is is a good

thing. Any imitation is a good thing, even if it's delayed. And imitation in general is just such a critical skill. OK, so making a plan to teach it, identifying which imitation skills are strengths, which are needs, using their strengths to help their needs and making a plan, it is often not just a pivotal skill, but the good thing about imitation is it doesn't require speech and language and parents can often get a quick win. If you can teach a child to wave for instance, when somebody arrives or leaves and if you can teach them to wave and gently prompt that, and then they learn to wave or clap with their pree. That's typically the way it works. But I will say that using a verbal behavior approach on the Turn Autism Around approach, we are not waiting for verbal imitation to get everything in place. At the same time, we're building imitation skills. We are also holding up water and saying water three times. We're also taking an inset puzzle and we are saying pig three times. We are working hard to get language as quickly as possible. All the early learning programs that are in my book and in my online courses are developed to get quick wins to get. Language going to pair the the pig name with the visual of the pig with the child's wanting to put the pig in the puzzle. It's part man, part tact. And you're saying it. And if they say it or say it, kind of sorta that's a word approximation we get part echo to. And that's why inset puzzles are programed within my early learning programs. That's why Mr. Potato Head is we can hold up a nose and we say nose three times. Once the child really loves to build potato head, we have to make it fun. We have to make it reinforcing. If potato head gets unpaired, we need to repair it. It's like a job. Once they really love it, we can begin touching our nose. When we hold up the nose while we say nose, we can gently help the child touch their nose. Potato Head is a very important program to build imitation skills. Song Time. We have songs and song fill ins and motor actions during the songs. Songs like Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes are critical for learning. You know, while I said it was a mistake, when I assess Lucas's ability, it certainly wasn't a mistake to do the Barney song. When we're teaching it had burst. We touch our head and we touch our toes and then our belly and then our nose. But then we also should have done head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes and had him do the imitation on that song. And then we should have also done Potato Head, where we held up a nose and he learned the body parts out of order without a song. So all kinds of things that are embedded within my early learner programs that if you're out there listening and maybe you're doing a different approach and not using these techniques. This is this is basically a new approach based on decades of research, decades of my experience and decades of it working with people. So I really encourage you to get a hold of my book, listen to it, read it, get those book resources, which will really help you as well. So I do recommend that imitation skills and a lot of skills not just be done in the natural environment, but we actually are a big part of the term. Autism around approach is to pair up these materials like potato head and set puzzles, object imitation, all these kind of the cups and the blocks. And that all goes together in a bag so that you don't have to be hunting around like I did the night I collected these identical objects. We need to be working on these skills at a table that the child's feet can touch, the floor they can be sitting. And we never want to force a child to sit at the table. We need to slowly parent make it so much fun. This is learning time.

This is not work. And, you know, a lot of early intervention professionals don't recommend a table. They recommend doing everything on the floor. And I have found over the years that we want to do short bursts of table time, make it fun, make it appealing, put everything together so that it's easy for the child, easy for the parent to do these kind of things, even if it's just fifteen minutes a day. This is all outlined in my work. So when we are teaching, we do want to use the what behavioral analyst call the SD or the command of do this and then move the spoon into the cup or stir the spoon. We want to say do this a little louder, more

exaggerating and even on a fun tone. Do this and make the move whatever you're going to do, because we want to teach a child to follow that. And we can and I in my program, do a lot of touch head with a model. And I think combining operations, we get a lot better bang for our buck. So we also want to use these imitation skills for play skills like having identical dolls and identical little bottles and feeding. But eventually, if the child gets these object imitation skills with, say, blocks and spoons and and cups, that you could quickly go around your house and get, then a lot of times we can do it with just one baby doll. So look at mommy feeding the baby. OK, your turn and you give the child the doll, and they imitate it, so you want to get to the point where you don't need two identical sets or say you're playing with a doll house and now you have different dolls. Oh, look, mommy dolls going up, up, up the steps. Make your baby doll go up the steps and or make the mommy go up the steps. The the toy farm. Same idea. If you can get it to where you just are working with one set, that's even better and that will generalize the skills in the natural environment. And if, like I said, if you have to use any kind of prompting, it has to be very, very gentle. The child needs to accept the prompt willingly. And that's why we really need to start with all fun things. And it's it's a very slow and fun process. OK, and then once your child does master some object imitations, you move on to gross motor imitation, like clapping and tapping the table again. I start usually with imitation of gross motor that involves some noise to get your child's attention. And finally, the fourth step, the fourth and final step is, is the using easy data to make sure you're making progress. And for parents, I never really want to bog them down with much data. But I and I also don't want them to work on a zillion skills at the same time. So until you're developing a table time, until you've read the book and downloaded the free resources and have your assessments, ask the parents, you know what? What would be a great imitation skill to work with? Maybe sometimes waving is a really great skill. Clapping is usually a great skill, but try to work on a couple of those skills at the same time, because I did work with one of my first clients who spent a year in traditional ABA and he learned clap hands. But when you said touch head, he clapped hands. When you said stomp your feet, he clapped hands and so it wasn't generalized. That's why it's really important to pick. I usually like three to five different targets per program. So if you're doing body parts, I work on three to five of them. At the same time, if you're working on imitation skills, then I would do waving and clapping and maybe banging on the table with both hands. You can't push fine motor really easily, especially with very young children, because their hands are so little and they can't really do the skills very well. So that's all about teaching. Again, the early learner programs all have imitation built in or have

tacts built in or have a echoics built in. And it's just a matter of finding what prerequisite skills are needed and assessing, planning, teaching and then keeping the data that you need to make sure it's working. The other thing about imitation is sometimes it can work and build behavioral momentum, which is another kind of behavioral term that we use. And so if a child can imitate a little bit sometimes building momentum, so do this. Let's let's do a fast tap tap reach up. So it's it's fun. It's fast. Combining songs, combining fluid movements sometimes get kids even more exciting again. Never force or over prompt. Make it fun and always be gentle. OK, so that is pretty much what I have for imitation. Don't work on it too much, don't work on too many skills at the same time, and always think about the four steps of assessing, planning, teaching and evaluating, using easy data. But we need to work on lots of skills at the same time. But imitation is just such a critical skill that I think should be worked on first, first and foremost. So I hope you enjoyed this this episode. If you want any of the show notes, including that five or ten minute video where I really do demonstrate exactly how to teach it, go to and you can always search Mary autism plus the topic in this case imitation to find the video blog. Or if you forget or if I say something else, say about video modeling you can just search Mary autism video modeling and it should pop right up. Anything I've said on the issue if like imitation, I don't, I didn't have much on it. Now I do. If there is anAnother topic that I am not providing you that you would love to hear my feedback on, just email us at [email protected]. Thanks so much for tuning in. And I'll see you next Tuesday. Same time, same place. Have a good one.

Mary: If you're a parent or early intervention professional working with young children with signs of autism, or if you're a parent or a professional helping older children with moderate to severe autism, you'll definitely want to order my new Turn Autism Around Book. Today, you'll get access to all the book resources that will help you right away for all the details and go to