Why use imitation?
- Imitation reduces stress by reducing use of verbal prompts, instructions and directions, and performance demands, reduces stress: Many neurodivergent learners experience considerable stress and anxiety. Low arousal techniques have evolved as a way of teaching neurodivergent learners. See an overview here. Some techniques are reducing demands, reducing talking, providing quiet time, and including movement. An imitation-based approach can be used to create low-arousal environments.
- Imitation expands opportunities for engagement: Learners can engage in many ways by moving their body, using facial expressions, hand gestures etc. Imitation is based on observation and use of the body Mindful use of imitation changes communication between teachers and learners. Imitation provides a opportunities for those with language processing and other challenges to stay engaged in lessons.
- Imitation creates opportunities for parent engagement: When a guide uses imitation as the core teaching process, there are many opportunities for parents to engage their child in simple and meaningful ways. Lessons taught through imitation can be repeated by the parent with the child. As the learner gets used to this process, the parent can routine use this process to provide predictability and variation in the learning process.
Imitate, Repeat, Memorize, and Improvise
Varied experiences over the last two decades have brought us to our basic learning process:
In today’s world, three of the four steps in this process (imitation, repetition, and memorization) seem unfashionable. The push is for creativity and innovation! However, I believe that imitation, repetition, and memorization support creativity rather than hinder it. We learn from a model, practice repeatedly, store things in memory and eventually improvise and use in our own way.
So I was very happy to read this blog post by Simmi Vasu on imitation. Imitation is not just the first step towards learning for babies and small children, it is a process we can use throughout our lives!
As Simmi notes: “Imitation skills are one of the most important developmental milestones. It clearly shows that the child is environmentally present, he is aware of his surroundings and is responding to the stimulations he receives from them.”
As Ananth learned Bharatanatyam for over ten years, this process slowly came back into focus for me. As I see it being used repeatedly in Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) lessons, I am learning more about this process and applying it in a more mindful way. Here is an example of a video demonstrating imitation. Imitation is often used to teach movement and dance.
While imitation is a poweful way to teach any individual, there are additional benefits for neurodivergent individuals such as stress reduction and expanding opportunities for interaction beyond speech. It can also be challenging to implement imitation with neurodivergent individuals because they may have difficulty reproducing movements, gestures etc.
Ananth’s drama teacher, Dr. Vaishnavi Poorna of RASA India uses this process to teach drama to differently-abled adults. Students prepared for the RASA Day performance on February 23, 2023 using this process. Movements, gestures, and facial expressions were learned through imitation in class. Then, Ananth repeated these movements, gestures, and facial expression at home. Repetition led to memorization. Finally, one has to be well-prepared but be ready to improvise as things unfold on stage. Read about Ananth’s drama experience using this process here.
Learning Dance and Storytelling
Ananth also uses the imitate, repeat, memorize, and improvise process for learning dance and storytelling. Parents use imitation and repetition with young children. However, we often do not use it for older children or adults. Neurodivergent children may have missed developmental milestones and have language processing and other challenges. Hence, it is useful to implement the imitate, repeat, memorize, and improvise process in a more deliberate way.
Here is Ananth’s first story of the month created using this process:
Enhancing Learning with SMART Projects
Our basic process is
Imitate –> Repeat –> Memorize –> Improvise
The monthly SMART project focuses and organizes this basic learning process.
- Ananth has a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-framed) project to complete each month. Having a SMART project keeps him focused.
- Since the stories are attached to aduvus (basic movement patterns in Bharatanatyam) or hastas (hand gestures), Ananth has a narrow and clearly defined set of skills to practice each month. He practices other skills but the targeted practice for the story of the month is proving to be a very helpful part of learning.
- Ananth is practicing the story until he can narrate it fluently. This process is creating opportunities for memorizing and recalling language, thus growing his oral language capacities.
Author DrDasaratha Rama
Creative representation for this blog is done by our extremely talented CreativeSaathi associate Shubh Pathak