Joint Attention, Imitation and Toy Play: 3 key skills that children with Autism need to learn to improve communication. Interestingly, typical children are born to imitate and are able to imitate tongue protrusion as early as four hours old! Babies also develop “social memory” and the ability to repeat imitative behavior hours later. Baby studies show that at 14 months of age babies smile longer and gaze longer at adults who imitate them.
How to Develop Joint Attention: Get down at the child’s level. Look at what the child is looking at ( ie. a toy car, dog, tree) and make a comment. Try to get the child to engage with you either through gestures, eye gaze or words.
How to Develop Imitation: Games like “Peek-A-Boo” or imitating a child’s vocalizations and facial expressions-giving them communicative intent is a great way to teach imitation.
How to Develop Toy Play: Play with your child and their toys in expected ways (functional) and in pretend ways. Pretend play, such as putting a doll to sleep or acting like pirate, develops after functional play. An example of functional play would be pushing a car or rolling a ball. Start with functional play and graduate to pretend play.