Eliciting Imitation

Eliciting Imitation

Do you have a child who has inconsistent imitation skills or who is not yet imitating? Imitation is how we learn so this is a natural first skill to teach our non or pre-verbal students. Here is a list of ideas to try out. Some of them may not work initially but hopefully with some trial and error something from this list will make a difference in your interactions!


  1. Start with motor imitation. Teaching gestural communication will ensure that your student is “communicating” in a functional way. Knocking, pointing and waving are great places to start! 
  2. When starting with gestural communication, fade your prompting as quickly as possible so that you can increase the child’s independence.
  3. Continue using motor-based communication so that your child has an effective means to communicate while you are teaching verbal skills. You want to have as many communicative trials as possible to reinforce. The more reinforcement that is provided, the more trust is established and the more likely it will be that you will get an imitative response.
  4. Any sound counts! If you are working with a child who is an emerging verbal imitator, you want your goal to be focused on sound pairing (any attempt at producing a verbal sound after a sound/word is modeled, even if it does not sound similar to the sound being modeled), not sound matching (producing a sound that is similar or matches the sound that is modeled). Any attempt at verbal imitation needs to be highly reinforced!
  5. Find a sound that is already in the child’s repertoire to model. A previously produced sound can be easier to imitate than a novel sound.
  6. Start with vowels. Many of the clients that we see have a difficult time with imitation of sound combinations. If you see this occurring, try modeling different vowels in isolation to see if it is easier for the child to imitate.
  7. Try an echo microphone. Many children are more willing to produce sounds into an apparatus and the fact that it will echo is a bonus!
  8. Try silly sounds. Producing an animal sound or an echoing “ahahah” using your hand against your mouth repeatedly can be a lot more fun!
  9. Let the motor-based communication work, but not as quickly as it has in the past. Providing a generous pause after a modeled sound before reinforcing the movement can be just enough for a child to attempt to imitate a sound.
  10. Try using objects to elicit mouth movement with an object (blowing a whistle, kissing a Toothette, etc). Sometimes the first step to vocal imitation is learning to imitate simple mouth movements.

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