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Everyday Communication - Part 1

May 20, 2024
by Megan Lyons

A SANA lab blog post

In the latest SANA blog post, the first in a four-part series, social worker and speech and language pathologist Megan Lyons offers a multitude of tips for utilizing everyday activities to promote communication at home. Megan is an assistant clinical professor of social work and a speech and language pathologist in the Toddler Developmental Disabilities Clinic. She specializes in comprehensive clinical evaluations for infants and children suspected of having ASD. In this first part, she discusses tips for helping children with imitation skills.

Children with autism may have difficulty developing imitation skills. Imitation is an important skill because children learn by copying the actions and vocalizations of others. The following are strategies to promote imitation skills at home using naturally occurring routines, materials, and toys your child enjoys. Keeping in mind that depending on your child’s level of development, activities may need to be brief or you may need to intrude in on your child’s routines:

1. To start, capture your child’s attention: Get down on your child’s level and communicate face-to-face so they can see your eyes, mouth, and facial expressions. It may help to hold a motivating toy close to your face to capture and keep your child’s attention.

2. Introduce imitation in back-and-forth routines: This involves imitating your child’s actions, facial expressions, and vocalizations during naturally occurring play routines. For instance, if your child is banging two toys together, imitate that action. If your child produces babble, babble back to them. Remember to allow your child the time and the communicative space to keep the routine going. Similarly, use actions that are linked to specific words, such as clapping and saying “yay” each time an activity is finished, putting your finger to your lips and saying, “ssshhh” when pretending to put a doll to sleep, or pushing a car while saying, “vroom-vroom.” Initially, you may want to use gentle hand-over-hand support to help your child form these gestures.

3. Engage your child in repetitive action-based songs (e.g., Row, Row, Row Your Boat, The Wheels on the Bus) or play musical instruments (e.g., using real instruments or creating them by using two Tupperware bowls as drums, or a sealed plastic container filled with rice as a maracas). Pause periodically to allow your child to imitate the actions or sounds that are part of the routine.

4. Similarly, have fun with animal play sets, puzzles, or books modeling animal sounds (e.g., moo, meow) and pausing to allow your child a chance to imitate you.

5. If verbal imitation is developing, use routines like bath or dinner time to repeatedly model a new word (e.g., model the word “bubble” during your child’s bath while blowing bubbles). Use natural pauses of up to 5 seconds (versus saying, “Say bubble”) to allow time for your child to imitate the targeted word. If your child doesn’t imitate the word, carry on with the routine repeatedly modeling the word and action while regularly pausing to elicit natural imitation.


Submitted by Gitta Selva on May 13, 2024