Building Verbal Imitation Skills

Hi SLP friends!

I’m so glad to have you here and for us to really get into some of the foundations for success in Early Intervention. I have chosen these topics because they are all concepts I wish I had known prior to entering this incredibly rewarding population in speech pathology. I often think of progress in these children as being like an iceberg; we have to build up so many cognitive skills prior to seeing our therapy pay off in the form of “visible” progress like words and conversation! In our past blog posts, we have discussed Pre-Linguistic Skills and how they affect a child’s understanding of language. Let’s talk about how to keep those skills developing!


Building Verbal Imitation

Now that you’ve educated the parents, coached them through strategies, and their child is demonstrating the Pre-Linguistic Skills we addressed in our first two blogs, we can start building on those skills! But where to begin? Think back on how you observe children acquiring language. Does a 1 year old spontaneously go from never making any verbalizations to suddenly responding to verbal routines or saying “hello” and “mama”? Not typically. All of those small little coos and giggles eventually manifest as whole, recognizable words over time and with the right encouragement.


But First…

Ensure that the child is imitating actions with objects, such as banging blocks, pushing toy cars, patting a drum, as well as imitating gestures with a communicative intent, such as pointing, clapping, and/or waving. Look for actions that activate the mirror neurons too, like smiling and playing with oral features by blowing air, puffing out cheeks, or wiggling their tongues after you demonstrate these actions routinely. Once these foundational skills are mastered, you can work on vocalizing!


Let’s Talk!

When I can see that a child is ready for further development in language, I use the following strategies in my sessions:

  1. Vocalizing within the context of Play: Making animal noises, emphasizing noises made during eating like “crunch, crunch, crunch” or slurping, transport toy noises like sirens or “crash!”, and baby noises during pretend play with dolls.
  2. Exclamations: Words that you can say with excitement and emphasis, such as “Uh-Oh!”, “Wow!”, “Oh no!”, or “Ouch!”. These are so fun to incorporate and children love when you make these silly and entertaining for them!
  3. Verbal Routines: Verbal routines allow for children to fill in words when given a prompt. These can be incorporated through social games like Peek-A-Boo and Patty Cake and nursery rhymes like “The Itsy, Bitsy Spider”, “Old MacDonald”, and “The Wheels on the Bus”. Pause during these routines and let the children fill in the words or sounds once they are familiar with the phrasing.
  4. Functional Words (Finally!): These are words that the children would most benefit from the use of. I love to make a list of the words families would like to target most once we get to this point, because this can greatly differ from my experience. Words and short phrases such as “all done”, “more”, “mama/dada”, “no”, “hello/hi/hey” always seem to be great targets to begin working on. Due to the fact that we target them because they are the most used words, these are easy to embed within therapy since we have so many opportunities within the home environment to say them! (Mize, 2012)

 I hope this helps! Feel free to comment below with your experiences or email me with any questions or requests for future topics. Have a wonderful day!

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