Exploring the Relationship between Imitation and Social Communication in Infants




Hanika, Leslie

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This study examined the relationship between emergent imitation skills and social communication skills in 15 to 18 month old infants, using a quantitative correlational research design. Imitation skills are an index of later social cognition and language development, and a critical mechanism in language learning for typically developing children. Social communication skills in this age predict later language skills. The relationship between imitation and social communication is poorly understood in infants. This study looked at the relationship between imitation and social communication at their emergence. This study included 30 typically developing infants, whose participation was volunteered by their parents. They were recruited through posters and word-of-mouth in communities in the Pacific Northwest. Infants’ imitation behaviors were measured using the Motor Imitation Scale (Stone, Ousley, & Littleford, 1997), and their social communication skills were measured using the Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales- Developmental Profile (Wetherby & Prizant, 2002). This study used a naturalistic observation model so the one-hour play sessions took place in the infants' homes. Sessions were digitally recorded for later scoring and analysis. This study demonstrated a concurrent and predictive relationship between imitation and language understanding in this age group. The study suggests that imitation is an important variable in early language acquisition that needs further study, and needs to be addressed when assessing prelinguistic child development. The study suggests that imitation skills should be fostered early on and provides evidence-based methods for facilitating imitation and language development.



imitation, social communication, infants, typical development, naturalistic observation, language development, child development