Why imitation is a powerful strategy to support social communication

Why imitation is a powerful strategy to support social communication

Before reading this blog, it’s important to understand what we mean by ‘social communication’ and ‘imitation’. Social communication is more complex than it first appears. It refers to many aspects of communication such as body language, voice, conversational skills, social ‘rules’ (such as being polite and using manners), interpersonal skills (such as developing friendships), and emotional literacy (such as appropriacy and developing self-awareness). Imitation refers to the simple act of copying.

You may have noticed that your child has difficulties in some of the areas mentioned above. They might be less responsive to you and appear to be quite happy in their own world. Whilst we do not want to change their unique characteristics, we do need to prepare them for future experiences, and what is socially acceptable.

How will copying my child develop their social communication?

  1. If your child is already engaged with a certain activity, they are already interested and motivated. You’re not competing for their attention.
  2. Both yours and your child’s attention is on the same activity which makes imitating for you (as the parent) easier.
  3. Studies have demonstrated that when a parent imitates a child, they are more likely to look at the adult.
  4. Imitation not only supports eye contact but supports facial expressions (such as smiling), may increase vocalisations, and encourages your child to sit closer to you.
  5. Children learn through trial and error. They may start to try to perform new actions to gain their parents attention. Let your child lead the play!!

How do I start imitating my child?

  1. Start with observing them. Take the time just to watch. You don’t need to make notes. Sit back and observe their actions, movements, and sounds they make.
  2. Wait for your child’s reaction when they realise you are copying their actions. Remember they may not notice, you don’t need to remind them, simply copy them again.
  3. Having the same set up as your child allows them to feel in control. So, you may have two sets of the same activity rather than copying using their set of toys.

This may sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Start with a ten-minute time frame where you choose to copy your child. This is where you can practise your imitation strategy. Ten minutes a day is far more effective than an hour every two weeks. You may feel self-conscious but trust the process. Build your confidence, whilst exposing your child’s to increased language and communication, enabling them to develop vital social communication skills.

Look at the video above to watch the strategy in action!

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