Motor imitation in children with Down Syndrome…and how the ABA model is beneficial to children with Down Syndrome

I am so thankful to Cara’s mama….Cara is a little one I am seeing for feeding therapy….and her amazing mother, Christine has started her own blog…so below you will see a post she wrote…with permission she is allowing me to “pay it forward”…..Cara’s mother not only is a mama…she also is an incredible special education teacher…anyway…I am thankful that I have been lucky enough to work with Cara…..and glad to have acquired the information below….and please visit her site: 


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Motor Imitation

Keeping busy over here..  Working on motor imitation with Cara.  Will she do this on her own?  Of course..  Yes.  So why am I working on motor imitation?  I am setting the ground work for Cara’s future.  If I get Cara to imitate me now then when she is a bit older and I am trying to work on skills that are delayed she will understand what I want.  In other words, I don’t have to teach her the concept of imitation and getting good stuff for it later when I need to focus on any delays because she will understand it already.  I think I mentioned in a previous post that we are working on waving.  So this is what we do.. 
I am sitting with Cara in a stable position ( I don’t want her working or focusing on the sit I want her comfy to attend to me) 
I ask Cara to “do this” or “try this” then I wave.  It is an up down motion -she can do this. 
I will give her a full prompt – I will take my hand and easily help her wave to me. 
When she does she gets lots of praise from me!  I love it because she laughs so much!!!
I have been tracking it in data.  I mark when it is prompted or independent.  Recently, Cara has had an increase with her independent waves.  So we are getting ready to drop the prompt to partial prompting.  I will eventually just slightly tap her shoulder.  Cara understands that when she does she gets – lots of praise.  She is so cute when she gets the big praise! Something to watch out for as this progresses.  I am working on verbal imitation as well – I will get into it but as a side note.  When Cara is asked to do an imitation verbally she is waving to me.. Haha smart kid she wants the praise for a wave.  I tell her “do this ah”  I don’t want to reinforce something I am not asking for. Be careful of this sweet misunderstanding that can happen.. 

I wanted to work on 2 motor imitation targets going at one time.  I thought about tapping her legs because she will imitate this sometimes with me when we play – but it is sometimes too close to waving so I think I will do something else.  I am probing data right now. I will ask her to do arms up with prompts.  I will also ask her to imitate clapping and I will prompt it.  I want to see where to go next.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)


This is important.  The information refers to children with autism but there are significant studies that prove children with Down syndrome benefit from this scientific method of teaching! The strengths and weaknesses for children with autism and Down syndrome are different so focuses would be different.


Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Behavior analysis was originally described by B.F. Skinner in the 1930’s. You may have learned about Skinner and “operant conditioning” when you studied science in school. The principles and methods of behavior analysis have been applied effectively in many circumstances to develop a wide range of skills in learners with and without disabilities.

What is Applied Behavior Analysis?

Behavior analysis is a scientific approach to understanding behavior and how it is affected by the environment. “Behavior” refers to all kinds of actions and skills (not just misbehavior) and “environment” includes all sorts of physical and social events that might change or be changed by one’s behavior. The science of behavior analysis focuses on principles (that is, general laws) about how behavior works, or how learning takes place. For example, one principle of behavior analysis is positive reinforcement. When a behavior is followed by something that is valued (a “reward”), that behavior is likely to be repeated. Through decades of research, the field of behavior analysis has developed many techniques for increasing useful behaviors and reducing those that may be harmful or that interfere with learning. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the use of those techniques and principles to address socially important problems, and to bring about meaningful behavior change.

Who Can Benefit from ABA?

ABA methods have been used successfully with many kinds of learners of all ages, with and without disabilities, in many different settings. In the early 1960s, behavior analysts began working with young children with autism and related disorders. Those pioneers used techniques in which adults directed most of the instruction, as well as some in which children took the lead. Since that time, a wide variety of ABA techniques have been developed for building useful skills in learners with autism of all ages. Those techniques are used in both structured situations (such as formal instruction in classrooms) and in more “natural” everyday situations (such as during play or mealtime at home), and in 1-to-1 as well as group instruction. They are used to develop basic skills like looking, listening and imitating, as well as complex skills like reading, conversing, and taking the perspective of others.
The use of ABA principles and techniques to help persons with autism live happy and productive lives has expanded rapidly in recent years. Today, ABA is widely recognized as a safe and effective treatment for autism. It has been endorsed by a number of state and federal agencies, including the US Surgeon General and the New York State Department of Health.
For more general information about behavior analysis and ABA, see: [The Association of Professional Behavior Analysts] [The Association for Behavior Analysis International] [Behavior Analyst Certification Board] [American Psychological Association Archival Description of Behavioral Psychology] [Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies]

What is the Research on ABA for Autism?

Many published studies have shown that specific ABA techniques can help individuals with autism learn specific skills, such as how to communicate, develop relationships, play, care for themselves, learn in school, succeed at work, and participate fully and productively in family and community activities, regardless of their age. A number of peer-reviewed studies have examined the effects of combining multiple ABA techniques into comprehensive, individualized, intensive early intervention programs for children with autism. “Comprehensive” refers to the fact that intervention addresses all kinds of skills: communication, social, self-care, play, motor, pre-academic, and so on. “Early” means that intervention began before the age of four for most children. “Intensive” means that ABA methods were used to arrange large numbers of learning opportunities for each child every day in both structured and unstructured situations, which amounted to 25-40 hours per week during which children actively learned and practiced skills. That was done so that young children with autism would have experiences like typical toddlers, who get thousands of chances every day to learn by interacting with their parents and others. These studies showed that many children with autism who received 1-3 years of this type of treatment had large improvements on tests of their cognitive, communication, and adaptive skills. Some who participated in early intensive ABA for at least 2 years acquired enough skills to participate in regular classrooms with little or no ongoing help. Other children in the studies learned many skills through intensive ABA, but not enough to function independently in regular classrooms full-time. Across studies, a small percentage of children improved relatively little. At this time, it is very difficult to predict in advance how far any individual child might go with this treatment. More research is needed to determine why some children with autism respond more favorably to early intensive ABA than others.
In some studies, intensive ABA was compared with less intensive ABA, typical early intervention or special education, and “eclectic”, mixed-method interventions done both intensively and non-intensively. The children with autism who received intensive ABA treatment made larger improvements in most skill areas than children who participated in the other interventions. Parents whose children received intensive ABA reported less stress than parents whose children received other treatments.

What Does ABA Intervention Involve?

Done correctly, ABA intervention for autism is not a “one size fits all” approach consisting of a “canned” set of programs or drills. On the contrary, every aspect of intervention is customized to each learner’s skills, needs, interests, preferences, and family situation. For those reasons, an ABA program for one learner might look somewhat different than a program for another learner. But genuine, comprehensive ABA programs for learners with autism have certain things in common:
  • Intervention designed and overseen directly by qualified, well-trained professional behavior analysts
  • Detailed assessment of each learner’s skills as well as learner and family preferences to determine initial treatment goals
  • Selection of goals that are meaningful for the learner and the family
  • Ongoing objective measurement of learner progress
  • Frequent review of progress data by the behavior analyst so that goals and procedures can be “fine tuned” as needed
  • Instruction on developmentally appropriate goals in skill areas (e.g. communication, social, self-care, play and leisure, motor, and academic skills)
  • Skills broken down into small parts or steps that are manageable for the learner, and taught from simple (such as imitating single sounds) to complex (e.g. carrying on conversations)
  • An emphasis on skills that will enable learners to be independent and successful in both the short and the long run
  • Use of multiple behavior analytic procedures – both adult-directed and learner-initiated – to promote learning in a variety of ways
  • Many opportunities – specifically planned and naturally occurring – for each learner to acquire and practice skills every day, in structured and unstructured situations
  • Intervention provided consistently for many hours each week
  • Abundant positive reinforcement for useful skills and socially appropriate behaviors
  • An emphasis on positive social interactions, and on making learning fun!
  • No reinforcement for behaviors that are harmful or prevent learning
  • Use of techniques to help trained skills carry over to various places, people, and times, and to enable learners to acquire new skills in a variety of settings
  • Parent training so family members can teach and support skills during typical family activities
  • Regular meetings between family members and program staff to plan, review progress, and make adjustments

What Kind of Improvements Can Be Expected From ABA?

Competently delivered ABA intervention can help learners with autism make meaningful changes in many areas. But most learners require a great deal of carefully planned instruction and practice on most skills, so changes do not occur quickly. As mentioned earlier, quality ABA programs address a wide range of skill areas, but the focus is always on the individual learner, so goals vary from learner to learner, depending on age, level of functioning, family needs and interests, and other factors. The rate of progress also varies from one learner to the next. Some acquire skills quickly, others more slowly. In fact, an individual learner may make rapid progress in one skill area – such as reading – and need much more instruction and practice to master another, such as interacting with peers.

Who Can Provide ABA Intervention?

Because of the huge demand for ABA intervention for autism, many individuals and programs now claim to “do ABA.” Some are private practitioners or agencies that offer to provide services by periodically coming into a family’s home; others operate private schools, and still others provide consultation services to public schools. Not all of them have the education and practical experience that the field of behavior analysis considers minimum requirements for practicing ABA. Family members and concerned professional are urged to be cautious when enlisting anyone to “do ABA” with a child, youth, or adult with autism.
Whether assembling or choosing an ABA program, keep in mind the following:
  • Just as a medical treatment program should be directed by a qualified medical professional, ABA programs for learners with autism should be designed and supervised by qualified behavior analysts, preferably individuals who are Board Certified Behavior Analysts (R) with supervised experience providing ABA treatment for autism, or who can clearly document that they have equivalent training and experience. Always check credentials of those who claim to be qualified in behavior analysis.
  • An ABA program should have the components and features listed above
  • Monitor the program by observing sessions and participating in training sessions and consultations
For more information on finding ABA practitioners, see: [Behavior Analyst Certification Board] [Association of Professional Behavior Analysts] [Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies Autism Page]
Information provided by:
Drs. Gina Green, Bridget Taylor, Stephen Luce & Patricia Krantz of
The Autism Advisory Group, Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies



About Kim

My name is Kim Marino and I have been practicing as a licensed speech and language pathologist since 1993. I work on Long Island providing diagnostic evaluations and services to children from birth to age 21. My experience is vast and am proud to say that I work with children that may present with articulation and phonological concerns, oral motor feeding concerns, Down Syndrome feeding, cognitive rehabilitation, auditory processing delays, receptive language delays, cleft palate feeding and sound development and expressive language delays. Most importantly, I am the mother of four amazing children and am happily married to my childhood sweetheart. I feel blessed to have my four children and so lucky to share this journey in life with my husband. I always had it somewhere in my head that I wanted to develop a blog or a website of some sort so that I could provide families with an additional that parents could help their little ones become a better communicator. And as I was developing this blog....I realized that I also needed to share the stories about my life and my children....and the funny things along the way that help to keep me smiling. Whether you are a working mother or not...finding balance between home, children and life can be a challenge....I hope that my blog helps to bring a smile to your face..and also some tools to help you help your little or big one. I hope you enjoy! Kim
This entry was posted in Down Syndrome. Bookmark the permalink.