Book Excerpt: Helping Children with Autism Learn - By Bryna Siegel, Ph.D.
Imitation as the Gateway to Early Learning
Why Is Imitation Important? Imitation is a very crucial conduit through which
the one- to four-year-old child normally takes in a tremendous amount of information.
Throughout that period of development when language has not yet been established
as an internalized means of narrating and planning behavior and problem solving,
imitative schema (maps) guide typically developing children through practice and
mastery of new skills. Originally, psychologists referred to key aspects of this
process as "assimilation," meaning that the child would first see something new,
and then take parts of what she saw into herself and reenact what had been observed
as self-initiated activity. Later, the child could be described as taking the newly
acquired information and being able to use it to "accommodate" variations on the
theme: A toddler seeing a new type of sand toy in the sand pit at the playground
might be expected to first watch as a slightly older child added sand, turned a
crank, and extruded small blobs of sand. If t his looked incredibly interesting
to the toddler, she might be expected to run up to the toy and either join in, or,
if she was a more shy child, wait for the older child to leave the toy alone, and
then pounce on a chance to imitate what she had just seen. That imitation of the
first child`s use of the sand-cranking machine would be "assimilation" of a new
play schema. Later, the toddler might decide to pour water or small stones through
the machine instead. She might decide to turn the machine upside down and see what
happened if the sand went in the other end. The results of all these little "experiments"
would allow the toddler to construct a database of information about this type of
sand toy; first, by assimilating what she had seen the other child do, and second,
by conducting her own experiments to "accommodate" the results of new information
produced by her experiments with the sand-cranking machine to her understanding
of how things like this might work.
Imitation as an Experimental Method. When a child with autism lacks the ability
or drive to imitate things in the world around him, he fails to engage in critical
self-initiated experiments that should allow him to construct a world of meanings
for the objects and activities he sees. Imitation is a complex ability, and it is
also a complex disability. Difficulties with imitation can be thought of as a convergence
of at least two main areas of innate disability that may affect children with autism.
As we discussed earlier, much of what we recognize as formal symptoms of autistic
spectrum disorders can be seen as the result of multiple and converging innate disabilities
that coexist in a way that makes for a characteristic pattern of disability as well
as possible adaptations. This coming together of innate deficits was referred to
earlier as the "matrix of abilities and disabilities" through which the child`s
difficulties as well as strengths form self-accommodations to what he cannot process
in the usual ways . We will now examine possible components of a failure to imitate,
with the goal of developing a better understanding of which underlying innate deficits
may need to be addressed for a particular child when lack of imitation is identified
as a learning deficit.
Imitation and the Desire to Be like Others. The first component of an innate
disability that contributes to problems in imitation is the lack of an affiliative
orientation. A big part of imitating is wanting to be like, and do like others.
Typically, we do not teach our children to imitate; it is just something they begin
to do spontaneously. When a child lacks the expected amount of drive to be like
others, to be where others are, or to do what others are doing, the drive that underlies
learning through imitation is gone or diminished. A child who is shy may seem to
lack a desire to join with others, but this can be distinguished from autism because,
in the child with autism, the lack of desire to join in is pervasive and present
across many situations, but in the shy child it is usually most notable with groups
of peers, in busy situations, or around relative strangers.
Imitation and a Theory of Another`s Mind. The second innate ability that underlies
imitation is the capacity for a theory of mind. When a child copies the actions
of another, he implicitly reflects the understanding that there is something salient,
something to be understood, a positive experience to be gained by doing what another
is doing. Imitation is a way of "assimilating" what is in the mind of another through
experiencing the experience of another. This explains the attraction to imitating
peers: Peers have minds of similar complexity and organization, so the child can
most readily "see" what it is that the peer is doing. (This may also explain why
some parents and teachers note that autistic children will imitate a bad behavior
more readily than a good behavior: Bad behaviors tend to be mentally simpler behaviors
to execute. A bad behavior, like biting or hitting, is often a means to an end,
which does not require theory of mind, just simple cause and effect, to understand.)
Imitation and Novelty Seeking. A third innate ability that drives imitation is
response to novelty. As we discussed, children with autism often have the opposite
response to novelty from other children. They tend to run from novelty rather than
seek it. The typical toddler is most likely to want to imitate something rather
novel and salient, something that really catches his attention. Therefore, Barney
is more interesting to copy than Peter Jennings. The child with autism, however,
does not attend to novel things as readily, and so, in avoiding novelty, misses
the salience that novelty brings -- the Barney traits (purple-ness, bulbous-ness,
gawkiness) that might otherwise seem captivating. This is not to say that children
with autism don`t like Barney -- many do. However, it is more likely that Barney`s
familiarity and the repetitiveness of what he does, not his novelty, makes him attractive.
In many ways, the absence of imitation, or a low or limited level of imitation,
is probably one of the biggest learning handicaps of a developing child with autism.
There is so much he should be taking in via observation of others. Lack of observation
of others has a pervasive effect on the amount of information the child takes in.
This failure to "assimilate" new information, in turn, profoundly affects the child`s
ability to "accommodate," or to develop further information by relating new experiences
to existing schema.
How Children Learn Imitation. Let`s go through an example that demonstrates learning
through imitation in a typically developing child that may provide a model for the
way children with autism also can be taught to imitate: The 14-month-old gets a
present. It is a stuffed cow. The father waves it around, saying, "Cow! Cow! Moo!
Moo!" He tickles the baby with it. The baby is interested, thinks this is very cool,
grabs for the cow, waves it, and says, "Ca-Ca! M-o-o-o-!" several times. He gets
a lot of parental attention for having done so well at this little lesson. Later,
the 14-month-old`s five-year-old sister is playing with her farmyard set, and the
14-month-old toddles through her neatly arranged corral, grabs a plastic cow, and
shows Dad, saying, "Ca-Ca! M-o-o-o!" A behaviorist would say that the 14-month-old
has "generalized" what a cow is. We could also say that the 14-month-old "assimilated"
his dad`s cow use, and then accommodated his newly acquired cow schema to include
plastic cows as well as stuffe d cows.
Imitation and the Behavioral Concept of "Generalization." Understanding how and
why a 14-month-old imitates is critical because we often hear behaviorally oriented
teachers commenting on how something the autistic child has learned hasn`t "generalized"
yet. What is meant is that the child has learned to respond to one example of a
learning target, but has not shown the predilection to use that information elsewhere.
For example, a child might learn to "touch cow" using a six-inch, hard rubber cow,
but will not yet "touch cow" if a larger, soft-flocked cow is used. Why not? How
is the process of learning different for the child with autism? He has not learned
through imitation. Usually, the procedure is to "motor prompt" the child with autism,
taking his hand and putting it on the cow (rather than the pig) when he is asked
to "touch cow." The prompt is used less and less until the child can discriminate
between a cow and a pig on his own. When he does this correctly, he gets half a
pretzel stick or some other treat he likes.
There are several key differences in the learning process so far for the 14-month-old
and for the child with autism. First, the autistic child`s actions are motivated
by cause and effect, not a desire to imitate (that is, to do like, or be like someone
else). He has figured out what to do to get the pretzel stick. (He did not use theory
of mind -- "I will have fun if I do this with this cow, too!" but rather simple
cause and effect.) He did not begin the activity spontaneously, but his behavior
was systematically "shaped" to "touch cow" starting from the level at which he was
physically shown to do it. (He did not seek novelty.) The child with autism likely
engaged in this activity with no social reference to the teacher before or after
identifying the cow. (There was no affiliative orientation motivating a desire to
do as the teacher had done.) There was no "generalization" because critical components
of the learning experience -- the novelty seeking as part of the learning experience,
and motivation to enga ge in this activity because someone else interesting did
it first -- were lacking.
What does this mean? Is motor prompting not a good way to teach children with
autism? No, it doesn`t mean it`s not a good way of teaching. It can help the child
attend to something he might otherwise avoid attending to. Giving a food reward
sustains and organizes attention around a goal (the food), which is important for
the child when social attention alone is not that relevant. It does work to teach
specific examples, and sometimes in the process, the child becomes interested enough
in the materials or in the way the teacher is teaching to retain this information
in a qualitatively different way that promotes assimilation and accommodation. In
this case, teaching must include materials that are intrinsically interesting to
the child to increase the probability that the materials themselves will stimulate
the desire to learn more, just as they do in a typically developing child.
This slightly different understanding of imitation should help one understand
how to construct teaching situations. If the child is interested in some qualities
of the teaching materials, there is a chance that the child will become increasingly
interested in the teaching interaction. By providing opportunities for imitative
learning for children with autism in a way that stimulates the same innate functions
that govern more typical patterns of learning through imitation, there is a better
chance that acquired information will be retained, used, and added to, as it is
with a typically developing child. The point is that an aspect of typical development,
like imitation, can be deconstructed into its innate components -- affiliative drive,
theory of mind, and novelty seeking (things we talked about in chapter 2) -- to
describe how, why, and when imitation promotes learning. In the case of autism,
the first step in remediation of the failure to imitate is to deconstruct it into
these same innate components -- af filiative drive theory of mind, and novelty seeking.
Weakness in any of those areas, or often in all three, will limit imitative learning.
Any of these possible innate weaknesses must be addressed to improve capacity for
imitative learning. By bolstering the underlying deficits (such as by using intrinsically
interesting materials so the novelty of the materials benefits rather than inhibits
learning) we model typical development of imitative learning and thereby give momentum
to the generative, motivating qualities of learning through imitation. Said more
simply, the child with autism may start to imitate after he has been stepped through
imitation of an activity, and it has turned out to be fun.
So, imitation can be increased by manipulating the novelty of the teaching materials:
A child with autism may be happy to imitate "waving" using a twirling battery-operated
pom-pom with online game for kids ing lights, but may remain uninterested in waving a baton. Similarly,
imitation can be increased by tweaking the "affiliative-drive" component of imitation,
such as when a peer provides a model of an activity that is developmentally at the
child with autism`s own level, and so is more readily experienced as interesting.
In the next section, then, we`ll discuss how peers fit into learning.
Reprinted from the book Helping Children with Autism Learn: A Guide to Treatment
Approaches for Parents and Professionals by Bryna Siegel, Ph.D.; (June 2003; $30.00US;
0-19-513811-2) Copyright ? 2003 Oxford University Press, Inc.; Permission granted
by Oxford University Press; For more information please visit the publisher`s website
Dr. Bryna Siegel is Professor of
Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco and Director of its Autism
Clinic. As a developmental psychologist specializing in developmental disabilities,
she has worked with families of children with autism for the past 25 years. She
has closely studied early diagnosis for autism, diagnostic methods, and the effect
of autism on the family. Her books include The World of the Autistic Child: Understanding
and Treating Autistic Spectrum Disorders (OUP, 1996) and What About Me?: Siblings
of Developmentally Disabled Children. She lectures frequently to parents and professionals,
comparing and contrasting treatments for autism and focusing on how to design and
tailor treatment programs for the individual child.
For more information, please visit www.writtenvoices.com.
Adult Attention Deficit Disorder - By Jeannine Virtue
Attention Deficit Disorder tends to focus predominately on children, leaving
the ADD adult population largely under served. Most of the information presented
about Attention Deficit Disorder focuses on children, parenting and school issues.
All but one ADHD medication currently on the market achieved FDA approval for adult
Attention Deficit Disorder treatment.
Attention Deficit Disorder simply was not in vogue when the adult of today was
a child decades ago. While today many express concerns of over diagnosis of Attention
Deficit Disorder in children, many also acknowledge the under diagnosing of adults
with Attention Deficit Disorder.
Adults with ADD often realize that they have Attention Deficit Disorder when
their own child is diagnosed. Looking through the list of symptoms, the parent often
sees similarities in their own present or past behavior.
Yet, the hurdles of Attention Deficit are often the same, whether in a child
or an adult. The ADD adult might have trouble with staying on task, staying organized
and procrastinating, just as the Attention Deficit Disorder child does. The Attention
Deficit Disorder adult might have trouble maintaining relationships and controlling
their mood, just like an ADD or ADHD child. The main difference between the ADD
adult and the ADD child is that the adult with Attention Deficit typically has more
sophisticated coping mechanisms.
For the better part, the Attention Deficit Disorder ADD ADHD symptom test outlined
for children is about the same for the adult, with the word "work" substituted for
"school." You can also look at the Attention Deficit Disorder test for children
and ask yourself if, as a child, you had such symptoms or currently have such Attention
Deficit Disorder symptoms.
Below is an adult symptom test with symptoms unique to the Attention Deficit
Disorder adult. This self test is not a diagnostic test but a source of information
for the adult trying to determine if Attention Deficit Disorder might be present
in their life.
Adult ADD Symptom Test:
If you experience more than 10 points on this adult ADD self symptom test, Attention
Deficit Disorder is likely present.
_ An internal sense of anxiety
_ Impulsive spending habits
_ Frequent distractions during sex
_ Frequently misplace the car keys, your purse or wallet or other day-to-day
_ Lack of attention to detail
_ Family history of ADD, learning problems, mood disorders or substance abuse
_ Trouble following the proper channels or chain of commands
_ An attitude of "read the directions when all else fails"
_ Frequent traffic violations
_ Impulsive job changes
_ Trouble maintaining an organized work and/or home environment
_ Chronically late or always in a hurry
_ Frequently overwhelmed by tasks of daily living
_ Poor financial management and frequent late bills
_ Spending excessive time at work due to inefficiencies
_ Inconsistent work performance
_ Sense of underachievement
_ Frequent mood swings
_ Trouble sustaining friendships or intimate relationships
_ A need to seek high stimulation activities
_ Tendency toward exaggerated outbursts
_ Transposing numbers, letters, words
_ Tendency toward being argumentative
_ Addictive personality toward food, alcohol, drugs, work and/or gambling.
_ Tendency to worry needlessly and endlessly
_ "Thin-skinned" - having quick or exaggerated responses to real or imagined
So you hit a number of points on the adult ADD self symptom test, now what?
First, it is important that a physician rule out conditions like anxiety, depression,
hypothyroidism, manic-depressions or obsessive compulsive disorder that can mimic
Attention Deficit Disorder symptoms. Hormonal imbalances in perimenopause and menopause
can produce foggy thinking, anxiety and exaggerated outbursts. Women should rule
out perimenopause if the Attention Deficit symptoms appear in their late 30s or
Physicians typically first prescribe antidepressants like Prozac for an adult
with ADD, since depression issues often go hand-in-hand with adult ADD. Physicians
usually move to stimulant medications like Adderall, Concerta or Ritalin or Strattera
if antidepressants do not work.
The stimulant medication treatment route is not recommended for people with a
history of drug or alcohol use or abuse since these are controlled substances with
a fairly high degree of addiction potential in adults. Some adults find that the
side effects of ADHD medications are not worth the benefits of the medication.
The Attention Deficit Disorder adult can find help naturally without the side
effects of ADD medication treatment by incorporate diet, exercise and lifestyle
Release the Steam, Quiet the Mind:
Regular and vigorous exercise can be very helpful for the Attention Deficit Disorder
adult. Attention Deficit Disorder adults tend to have addictive personalities. Exercise
is a good addiction. Aside from the obvious health benefits, regular exercise is
also a great way to release steam and quiet the mind. Some studies also link regular
exercise to decreased depression - a condition common with Attention Deficit Disorder
The brain is a hungry organ that cannot function at optimal levels without the
proper fuels. To keep the brain functioning at top performance, ADHD diets packed
with brain boosting essential fatty acids and amino acids is a must. A diet high
in lean protein provides amino acids necessary for brain functioning.
The ADD adult can also meet these crucial dietary requirements for Attention
Deficit Disorder by taking a high-quality nutritional supplement to ensure that
they are giving the brain the fuel it needs to function properly.
Restructuring the ADD adult environment:
The Attention Deficit Disorder adult should get into the habit of making lists.
The list should include any and all tasks required for the day, from "Mop the kitchen
floor" to "Finish the sales proposal."
Write your list with the tasks of highest priority first. Once the highest priority
task is completed, mark it off and go to the next. Warding off the urge to skip
around on the list will take some discipline but the sense of accomplishment at
completed tasks is well worth the effort.
The Attention Deficit Disorder adult should also keep a notepad in their car,
purse, coat and on their bed stand. Thoughts come and go quickly. Jotting the good
ideas down will ensure that they don?t go away quickly - assuming the notepad does
not get lost in the process
The alarm clock or a wristwatch with an alarm can be a great tool for the Attention
Deficit Disorder adult. If you need to pick your child up from soccer practice at
a certain time, set the alarm. If you have food cooking on the stove and you leave
the kitchen, set the alarm. If you have an important appointment, set the alarm.
Large tasks tend to overwhelm the Attention Deficit Disorder adult and they often
put off large task as long as possible. It is not uncommon for the Attention Deficit
Disorder adult to procrastinate until the "11th Hour" and then pull an all-night
jam session trying to meet a deadline.
For large tasks, the Attention Deficit Disorder adult will do well to break the
task into smaller, more manageable tasks and attach deadlines to the smaller tasks.
If you need to finish a large project in one week, for instance, schedule specific
time each day to work on a specific aspect of the project.
An adult with Attention Deficit Disorder might also find it beneficial to enlist
the help of a coach. A coach is a close and trusted friend, co-worker or therapist
whose specific function is to help the Attention Deficit Disorder adult stay organized,
on track and focused while providing encouragement.
Jeannine Virtue is a freelance
writer and mother of an Attention Deficit teen. For information on effective drug-free
Attention Deficit treatment, visit
Children articles index
- Brains on Fire: The Multimodality of Gifted Thinkers - By Brock Eide
- laying Baby Computer Games ? The New Parent-Child Tradition? - By Emma
- Book Excerpt: Einstein Never Used Flash Cards - By Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph
- Putting Fun Into Parenting - By David Stoepker, Psy.D., & Erin Brown Con
- Preparing Your Child for a High-Tech Future - By Sue Sato
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - Predominantly Inattentive
- Abandonment - By Sonya Green
- Explaining Suicide to Children - by Tracy Pierson
- Our Children`s Needs - by Robert Elias Najemy
- How to Develop Self-Esteem in Children - By J. Bailey Molineux, Ph.D.
- Helping Children Overcome Stress and Fear - By Debbie Milam
- Do you Shout at YOUR children? - By James Middleton
- Book Excerpt: Helping Children with Autism Learn - By Bryna Siegel,
- SPEED SPELLING: Another way to use speed reading skills for "schoolwork&q
- Children and Stress - By Laura Silva Quesada
- Boundaries- Why Are They Needed? - by Derek Randel & Gail Randel M.D.
- Juggling Home
- Explaining World tragedy to Children - By Chick Moorman and Thomas Ha
- Children and Pessimism - By Carol Tuttle
- Loving Yourself, Loving Your Children - By Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
- Social Manners for Children - By Susan Dunn, The EQ Coach
- The Sexual Abuse of Children - By J. Bailey Molineux
- A Few Simple Truths About ADHD and Stimulant Drugs - By Steve Edelman1,
- DYSLEXICS and A.D.D. KIDS BECOME GIFTED SPEED READERS - by George Stanc
- Using Feng Shui for Better Behaved Children - By Kathryn Weber
- Book Excerpt: Helping Children with Autism Learn - By Bryna Siegel,
- Five Keys to Raising Nonviolent Children - By Tammy Cox, LMSW
- The Best Way to Reduce Stress: Start Young - By Zach Brull
- Your Child?s Self-Esteem is in The Cards - By Susan Howson
- Calming Tips for Hyperactive Children - By Jeannine Virtue
- What is ADHD? - By Jeannine Virtue
- Talking to Your Children About Sex - By Jan Andersen
- How Our Children Really Learn And Why They Need To Play More And Memo
- HOW DO WE PROTECT OUR CHILDREN FROM PREDATORS? - By Linda J Alexander,
- Teach Children Positive Self-Image Through Fitness - By Lynn Bode
- No Invitation Needed -- Part 3 of 3 Sacred Children Series - By Skye T
- Helping Our Children Feel Good About Themselves - By Dr.Barbara Becker Hol
- Unidentified Stepfamily Zones - Discoveries Made at a Stepfamily Confer
- Divorce and Children: Things To Consider When You`re Staying Married
- Six facts you should know to empower your teaching. - By Emmanuel
- Are You in an Abusive Situation? - by Colin Gabriel Hatcher & Randall
- The Divorce Revolution Has Failed - By J. Bailey Molineux
- Is Your Child Well-Mannered? - By Mary Jesse
- Jesus` Birthday -- Part 2 of 3 Sacred Children Series - By Skye T
- Empty Nesters: What Should You Do Once the Children Leave? - By Mary Guar
- We should celebrate the diversity of children and adults - By Robyn M
- How to Cope with Back to School Stress - By Debbie Mandel
- HIS KIDS: BECOMING A W.O.W. STEPMOTHER - by Julie Donner Andersen
- ADD / ADHD Children : Being Your Child`s Best Friend - By Kate Hufst