Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Development of Imitation Skills

I am currently attending some Speech and Language classes taught by Kids on the Move, and am coming home with so much wonderful information!
I'll try and spread it out some, but don't be suprised if that is all you are hearing about from me for the next little bit.

The following is an article I recieved from class.
It has a lot of helpful information as far as what milestones certain aged children should be at concerning imitation;
which plays a critical part in their overall communication skills.

It outlines the average imitation skills from birth to after 2 years of age.
If you have questions/worries about what your child should be doing in terms of speech and language, this is an excellent source of information.

This article will talk about what imitation skills are, how to recognize them, skills for appropriate ages, and if/how you can help your child develop them.

The following article is copied completely from the handout I received.  I am in no-way taking credit for the ideas/opinions expressed.  I have simply added color/size to define what I found to be most helpful.

The Development of Imitation Skills
by Rebecca D. Yeatts, M.S., CCC-Sp.

What is imitation?
Imitation is the ability to copy the actions,sounds, words, or facial expressions of another person.  The ability to imitate appears very early in life and is refined for many years.

Imitation involves paying attention to something another person is doing or saying, then trying and gradually learning to copy the action, sound, or words accurately.

Your child may imitate you as soon as you do something (such as when you say "bye bye" and wave and the child begins to wave, too).  Or the imitation may be delayed - it could be the next day when the child puts on a coat and goes to the door and remembers to wave when someone says "bye bye."

Why are imitation skills important?
Children learn to use language by imitating the people around them.  Imitation also helps us learn the customs, accepted gestures, and body language of our culture, and how to interact with other people.

Development of imitation skills
Imitation skills develop in steps.  One step builds on the one before it, until the child no longer imitates but uses skills spontaneously.  Here are the average ages of children when they show some of the significant points in the development of imiation skills.

At a few months of age:
Babies first learn to imitate eye contact and to pay attention.  They take turns in interactions with their parents; they smile, frown, and use other facial expressions.  Most babies become very good imitators by simply watching and copying the people around them.

7-8 months of age:
Babies learn to make many different sounds and begin to imitate the sounds of others.  The sounds the baby made earlier were entertaining and automatic, rather than in imitation.  Usually, babies imitate sounds that they can see, such as "ma," "ba," and "pa," and funny sounds, such as tongue clicks, lip pops, coughing, "rasperries," and animal noises.  Hearing problems are often discovered at this point, because it is harder for a child who does not hear well to imitate sounds.

12 months:
Children begin to imitate intonation; sometimes they sound like they are using words and sentences.  When you drop something and say "uh oh,' your child may copy your gestures and say "uh oh."  Children at this age pretend to talk on the telephone, scold their toys, or comment on something that has gone wrong.  They are also excellent imitators of "pat-a-cake," "peek-a-boo," and other finger plays and songs.

Most parents of babies are very good at talking in single words or short phrases.  They use lots of gestures and facial expressions and maintain eye contact with their baby naturally, making it easy for the baby to learn to imitate.  As the child grows older, parents usually automatically adjust their words and phrases, gestures, and facial expressions to the child's level.

Before the first year, and continuing for several years, children learn to play with toys and other children by imiating and experimenting.  Parents unconsciously teach babies to play by showing them how to shake rattles, work "busy boxes," push pop-up toys, wind musical toys, and look at books.  Later, children learn to imitate complicated games, household routines, and habits.

After age 1:
Children become better imitators and begin to imitate actions and words.  At first, the imitation may be inaccurate (such as "gog" for "dog).  The child will learn to imitate sounds more precisely as control of the muscles and coordination needed to use speech sounds increase.

At about 18 months of age, children take great pleasure in watching and copying the same songs and finger plays over and over.

At 18-24 months, children use a variety of words to express themselves and begin imitationg the combination of words into two- and three-word phrases.  When mommy leaves the house and someone says "Bye, mommy," the 18-24-month-old will probably be able to imitate without any trouble.  At this stage, parents tend to talk in two- and three-word phrases, so imitation is easy.  The child's sounds may be inaccurate, but the child can imitate longer combinations of words.

After age 2:
Children continue to imitate words, longer sentences, more precise sounds, and household routines, and more complex songs, dances, and finger plays.  Gradually they take on more of the mannerisms and way of speaking and interacting of those around them.  Imitation continues to be refined even into adulthood.

Do imitation skills need to be taught?
Most babies imitate, remember, and learn naturally, but children with disabilities may need help.  The child who is hearing impaired or who doesn't learn as fast as other children may need o be taught sign language and will take longer to learn to imitate speech.  The child who is visually impaired needs to learn to imitate through touch and hearing, rather than sight.  The child with a physical disability may not have enough muscular control to imitate accurately.

Children with disabilities may need to learn alternate ways of communicating (such as with pictures or computers), but they learn to use these devices by imitating other people.

How can I help my baby develop imitation skills?
Talk face-to -face with your baby from about 12 inches away.  This helps the child see your face clearly and watch your facial expressions and eye contact.  To hold your baby's interest, change your pitch from high to low and your loudness from whispering to normal voice.  Alternate between funny sounds and speech sounds.

Don't be afraid to look silly and have fun!  Babies like funny faces and funny noises and can become bored more easily than we think.  Hold your baby in front of a mirror and encourage a conversation with the "baby" in the mirror.

Encourage older children to talk to and play with your baby.  Young children love to imitate other children and often copy their expressions and sounds more easily than those of an adult.
When your baby makes a sound or face, imitate it.  Turn-taking can go on for a long time and will help your baby learn that communicating is fun.

Children who are between the developmental ages of 1 and 2 can learn to imitate sounds by making animal noises along with the animal words.  Other fun sound-making activities include making motor noises with cars, trucks, and airplanes, and commenting on actions with sounds (such as "pat pat" and "tickle tickle").

Young children also learn imitation skills through copying finger plays and games (such as "Itsy Bitsy Spider," "The wheels on the bus," "so big," "pat-a-cake," and "peek-a-boo").  Dancing and clapping with music is another way.

Children begin to recognize themselves in the mirror around 18 months of age, but mirrors will interest them earlier.  This is a good time to teach the imitation of sign language, identification of body parts and clothing, and the imitation of sounds and words and funny faces.  Use puppets and other toys to keep it interesting.
When teaching the imitation of words, phrases, or sentences, make sure to use language that is not too long or complicated.  If the child uses only the first sound of a word - such as "b" for "book" - then say back the word "book."  If the child says "book," then add another word, such as "want book."  Language is easiest to imitate when it is expanded in small pieces.

Copyright 1990 by Communication Skill Builders, Inc.
This page may be reproduced for clinic or home use.

Now for actually making this applicable...
As the article stated, "imitation skills develop in steps.  One step builds on the one before it, until the child no longer imitates but uses skills spontaneously."

So, to make this a little easier to work with I have identified some of the major steps (in the order they were written above).  That way you can determine where your child is and what you need to work on next or what to expect.
  1. maintains eye contact
  2. ability to pay attention
  3. smiles, frowns, and other facial expressions
  4. starts to imitate other's sounds, rather than spontaneously making sounds
  5. makes environmental noises (animal sounds, car/truck noises, etc.)
  6. makes sounds "ma", "pa" and "ba"
  7. tongue clicks, "raspberries", lip pops, coughing
  8. imitates intonation (change in tone: "uh-oh")
  9. pretend play (talk on phone, talk to toys, etc.)
  10. finger play imitation ("peek-a-boo", "pat-a-cake", etc.)
  11. learn to imitate complicated games, household routines, and habits
  12. begin to imitate actions and words
  13. learn to imitate sounds more precisely
  14. interested in repeated specific songs and fingerplays
  15. uses a variety of words to express themselves
  16. combination of words into two- and three-word phrases
  17. Continue to imitate words, longer sentences, more precise sounds, and household routines
  18. Imitate more complex songs, dances, and finger plays
  19. Take on more of the mannerisms and way of speaking and interacting of those around them.

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