What is the Imitation Method of Teaching?

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The imitation method is a behavioral technique in which the teacher imitates the student’s actions and then asks questions to guide further behavior. If a child has trouble understanding what something means, they can imitate it again later on to see if that helps them make sense of it.

The “imitation method of learning” is a teaching methodology that uses imitation as the primary means of instruction. The goal is to help students learn through modeling, repetition and feedback.

Children with autism spectrum disorder have weak or undeveloped imitation abilities, which is one of their “fundamental deficits.” Imitation delays are often one of the warning signs that prompt parents to have their children evaluated after language development delays. Children with autism find it challenging to learn from others and via unstructured activities like play due to imitation impairments. Studies have shown that addressing imitation delays via focused treatments, such as the imitation style of teaching, may significantly reduce the symptoms of ASD (Cardon and Wilcox, 2011; Ingersoll, 2008; Vismara and Rogers, 2010).

What does the imitation teaching approach entail? 

One of the most crucial ways we pick up new knowledge, according to specialists in child and adult development, is via imitation. Imitation, or mimicking another person’s conduct, starts in childhood and lasts the rest of a person’s life. The imitation method of teaching emphasizes breaking skills down into its component parts, giving the learner a model of the desired behavior, and rewarding the learner when they demonstrate the behavior in response to the model right away. Simple imitation abilities serve as a learner’s foundation while more complicated imitation skills are built upon them.

Why is it crucial to teach imitation while learning new skills? 

Training in imitation is beneficial for autistic children since it removes several major learning obstacles. The majority of abilities may be learned via imitation, which is thought to be a natural approach for kids to learn. Beyond teaching a particular ability, imitation foundation building is also important. A youngster is being taught how to learn.

The Benefits of Imitation 

Numerous studies have shown the unmistakable benefits of imitation training, many of which include the following advantages:

– It aids in laying the groundwork for new abilities. As was already indicated, imitation training employs a building block approach. Simple imitation abilities are taught initially. Then, more complicated, advanced abilities are taught through a combination of these imitations. Instead than only highlighting deficiencies, learning is approached positively by focusing on what the kid already understands as a foundation.

– The imitation approach facilitates rapid and effective learning. Long explanations, many written instructions, or letting a youngster choose when to exhibit a skill are not necessary in imitation training. 

Instead, imitation training divides a child’s learning into exchanges that are more effective. The instructor displays the particular ability. The instructor gives the student constructive feedback when they successfully show the skill. Instead of using a “wait and see” approach if the student does not demonstrate the competence, the instructor gives a hint to assist bring out the skill in the learner. Because imitation training concentrates learning on the specific ability being imitated, it helps rapidly and effectively remedy skills inadequacies.

– Students of all ages may learn via imitation. Over the course of a lifetime, the value of imitation never actually decreases. Strong imitation abilities aid adults in learning the routines of a new profession just as much as they aid school-aged children in learning the patterns of a new classroom. Giving a kid with autism the opportunity to learn a strong imitation repertoire will provide the groundwork for a lifetime of success.

Imitative Training’s Drawbacks

Even if the majority of autism specialists and researchers put a high importance on the imitation style of instruction, not all students will benefit from it. A youngster learning to emulate others may “diminish their inner identity” or “make them behave like a robot,” according to some parents and autism activists. In actuality, imitation is how all kids pick up new skills. Instead, parents and educators should collaborate to provide kids chances to express themselves creatively outside of imitation learning. 

The fact that imitation training “didn’t work for my baby” or “took us a long time to teach my child to mimic” is another drawback or criticism that parents make about it. ‘ In the end, not all autistic kids benefit from imitation learning. Sometimes kids require pre-teaching since they don’t have the prerequisite abilities for effective imitation training. Looking at the teacher to watch the model, having some motor coordination and strength, and being sensitive to positive reinforcement are all prerequisites for imitation. However, in most situations—especially with young autistic children—these prerequisite abilities may be taught either before or at the same time as initiating imitation training.

Several illustrations of imitation for younger students

What skills would the imitation technique teach, then? Skills start at a basic level in very young learners or kids with limited imitation abilities. Several instances include:

Gross Motor Imitation: This skill focuses on copying an instructor’s bodily motions. 

may include imitating actions like walking in place, reaching out with the arms, or leaning down to touch his toes.

– Imitating Sounds and Words – Techniques that concentrate on copying an instructor’s vocal communication. 

Including basic words like “mama” and “wow,” as well as noises like “ooo” or “bah.”  

– Imitation with Simple Play Items – Asking a beginner learner to mimic simple play activities like rolling a vehicle down a ramp, shaking a maraca, or placing a spoon in a baby doll’s mouth.

Some Imitation Examples for Advanced Learners

The imitation style of teaching then integrates the skills into more complicated linguistic and social abilities after students have mastered the aforementioned competencies. Several instances include:

– Replacing lengthy passages with “tongue twisters” 

Fine motor imitation skills are those that concentrate on little motions, often using the hands or fingers. may include objectives like placing little things in a container, moving the tongue from side to side, or using the proper grip while holding a pencil.

– Social Observational Learning: Capabilities that center on seeing peers engaging in typical social interactions. may have goals like playing a new sport on the playground, utilizing slang, or speaking in a colloquial manner.  

Delayed imitation skills are those that have the learner see a behavior model and then imitate it after some time has elapsed, often up to weeks or months later.

Contact a Behavior Analyst or autism specialist for information and an examination if you have any concerns regarding the imitation technique of teaching or want to know whether a kid could benefit. 


Cardon, T. A., & Wilcox, M. J. (2011). Promoting imitation in young children with autism: A comparison of reciprocal imitation training and video modeling. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41(5), 654-666.

Ingersoll, B. (2008). The Social Role of Imitation in Autism: Implications for the Treatment of Imitation Deficits. Infants & Young Children, 21(2), 107–119.

Vismara, L. A., & Rogers, S. J. (2010). Behavioral treatments in autism spectrum disorder what do we know?. Annual review of clinical psychology, 6, 447-468.

Amy Sippl

Behavior Analysis in Applied Settings | Saint Cloud State University

Psychology Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) | University of Minnesota

March 2020

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