Effects of imitation therapy for non-verbal children with autism in Zambia
Imitation is a skill that emerges early to serve an important cognitive and social function in a child’s typical development (Ingersoll, 2011). Many children with autism (CA) have demonstrated deficits in imitation skills, and they show a general failure to understand relationships and communicate with other people (Heinmann et al., 2006). Problems with imitation in CA can hinder the development of communication which may later affect social learning. It is suggested that teaching imitation to CA leads to broader improvements in social functioning and other social-communication skills including language, pretend play, joint attention, and spontaneous gesture use (Ingersoll, 2008; Ingersoll & Schreibman, 2004)). Imitation therapy, an intervention developed by Zedler (1972), has been used for non-verbal children who did not imitate, and the results showed that imitation skills for the children improved, and verbalizations increased when the children were taught to engage in imitation (Gill et al., 2011). Unfortunately, there is no data available to demonstrate that this technique has been used with children in Zambia and, in fact, there is very little data or research on treatment of non-verbal children with autism in Zambia (Nyoni & Serpell, 2012; Kabali et al., 2019). This study attempted to ascertain preliminary data on the treatment of children in Zambia. It involved utilization of imitation therapy with three young children with suspected autism who were
non-verbal. Effectiveness of the intervention was measured by counting the changes in the number of utterances, the different phonemes (speech sounds) produced, the number of non-verbal imitations, and the number of reciprocal verbal imitations. For these three children, an intense intervention using imitation therapy resulted in significant changes in all areas for the children. This preliminary study suggests that imitation therapy may be an effective intervention for non-verbal children in Zambia.