How Can ABA Therapy Help Develop Imitation and Play Skills?

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy does not have one set formula, which is why some many therapists utilize this method for children on the autism spectrum. ABA therapy can look different for every child, including the skills being targeted during treatment. If a young child is behind in development of their imitation and play skills, ABA therapy may be used to help develop these social skills.

Imitation skills

While imitation skills sound simple, this is an important piece of early childhood development and everyday interactions. Imitation includes a range of different actions, including mimicking an action (e.g. waving your hand), mimicking a sound (e.g. saying hello), or mimicking an action made with an object (e.g. grabbing a block from a pile). Children who follow the typical progression of development will begin to imitate at approximately eight months old. They will continue to develop this skill (more advanced imitation) throughout the next 10 to 24 months (approximately). Parents are usually the most influential in their child’s development of imitation skills throughout play time.

Imitation skills in children with autism: How ABA therapy can help

Children who are on the autism spectrum often experience delays in their imitation skills at an early age. This is significant because delayed imitation skills can result in delays in other areas of development, such as language and play skills. Because of the impact of imitation on other areas of language and social development, ABA therapy is now being used to strengthen imitation skills in children with autism. Throughout treatment, ABA therapists will incorporate the interests of the child into therapy for imitation and continually encourage the child to imitate their behaviors. One way to do this is by first imitating the behaviors of the child (to model this skill). Because this skill may not come naturally, it is important for the therapist to encourage and motivate the child to do so.

Parents can also play an important role in practicing imitation at home in play settings, mimicking the behaviors of the child (to, again, model the skill), and helping or motivating the child to mimic behaviors. In some cases, the parents and therapists may also need to cue the child to mimic, if additional support is needed.

Play skills

As previously mentioned, a delay in imitation skills can lead to a delay in play skills. There are six main types of play skills that child develop: cause-and-effect, constructive, exploratory, physical, pretend, and toy play.

Play skills in children with autism: How ABA therapy can help

Children who are on the autism spectrum often experience delays in developing their interactive play skills, including taking turns or sharing with others. ABA therapists can help children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) build play skills by modeling appropriate play skills and practicing playing in a controlled space (before playing with their peers during school). ABA therapy can also aim to resolve problematic behaviors that occur during play time and replace these behaviors with more positive behaviors. As with many other aspects of ABA therapy, the more practice, the better!

Are you interested in ABA services for your child in the Chicago area? Contact us or call (773) 630-4400 to learn more about the range of services we provide for children who are on the autism spectrum at Chicago ABA Therapy, including applied behavior analysis therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology.




Contributed by Rachel Brusstar.