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Introduction to Matching and Imitation


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Introduction to Matching and Imitation

The programs presented in Chapters 12, 13, and 22 are critical building blocks in the student's curriculum. Chapter 12 contains programs de­signed to teach the student to match (a) objects such as socks, shoes, and cups; (b) attributes of objects such as shape and colour; and (c) letters and numbers (a skill ba­sic to teaching the student to read and write—see Chap­ter 29). Chapter 12 also contains a program designed to teach the student to sort stimuli into categories, such as people versus animals or vehicles versus edibles. Chap­ter 13 contains a program for teaching the student to imitate the nonverbal behaviours of other persons. Chapter 22 contains a program that presents steps for teaching the student to imitate the sounds, words, and sentences generated by others.

The Matching and Sorting and the Nonverbal Imita­tion Programs (Chapters 12 and 13, respectively) rely on visual stimuli and are relatively easy for the adult to teach and the student to learn. The Verbal Imitation Program (Chapter 22), on the other hand, which relies on audi­tory stimuli, is the most difficult program to teach and one of the most difficult programs for the student to mas­ter. The common element among all these programs is that they teach the student to match stimuli. In the Matching and Sorting Program, the student learns to match items that are similar or identical in some charac­teristic (e.g., colour, shape, size, function). In the Nonver­bal Imitation Program, the student learns to match her behaviours to those of another person (e.g., the student waves in response to a wave or smiles to a smile). In the Verbal Imitation Program, the student is taught to match her vocalizations to those of the teacher (e.g., the student matches her expression of the word 'mama' to the teacher's expression of 'mama').

Before we describe the specifics of each program, it may be helpful to give some background information con­cerning their significance. The importance of imitation to development has been recognized by virtually every person who has written on the subject. Many different terms describe the subject, including observational learning, social learning, identification, copying, modelling, and matching.

We have found that two important by-products result from learning to imitate. The first by-product pertains to the rapid acquisition of complex behaviours. It is next to impossible to teach, through shaping of successive ap­proximations, the complex behaviours needed to function in society. It is much easier to teach the student complex behaviours by helping the student learn to imitate the behaviours of typical individuals. In this way, other people serve as models, demonstrating the much complex behaviour the student needs to master. Some forms of extrinsic reinforcement, such as adult approval, may be necessary to perfect or fine tune the student's behaviour, but the ma­jor acquisition is accomplished through imitation. The second by-product relates to the student's motivation. In brief, it is likely that the matching of stimuli, as done in imitation, is intrinsically rewarding. That is, when a stu­dent imitates the behaviour of another person, it is likely that the student is rewarded (reinforced) by observing the similarity between her behaviour and the behaviour of the other person. When the student perceives the similarity between her behaviour and that of another person, that similarity comes to function as a powerful reinforcer for the student. The closer the student matches her behaviour to that of the model, the more reinforcement the student receives. Through this, the student puts herself in the po­sition to learn on her own. Examples from behavioural re­search addressing the variables that maintain imitative behaviour can be found in Baer and Sherman (1964); Lovaas, Berberich, Perloff, and Schaeffer (1966); Lovaas, Freitas, Nelson, and Whalen (1967); and Parton and Fouts(

Another benefit to the intrinsically rewarding prop­erty of imitation is that it promises the maintenance of the student's behaviours after treatment is terminated. If behaviour depends on extrinsic reinforcement during treatment, then it is more likely that the behaviour will extinguish once treatment is terminated unless extrinsic reinforcers continue to be made available in the person's everyday life. In contrast, if the behaviour is based on imi­tation, then the reinforcer may be said to be intrinsic and the treatment gains are more likely to be maintained. This possibility is particularly important to consider when teaching the student to imitate the behaviours of her peers. Successful peer integration is a particularly impor­tant step to maintaining the student's gains and increas­ing her growth.

An observation pertaining to echolalia speech may be helpful in illustrating the concept of matching as a re­inforcing stimulus. When we began our work, we (mistak­enly) considered echolalia to represent a pathological behaviour and we made explicit efforts to withdraw social reinforcers for echolalia behaviour, an intervention that had helped reduce self-injurious behaviour. Withdrawing social reinforcers did not reduce echolalia (Lovaas, Varni, Koegel, & Lorsch, 1977). A resolution to this problem came when we considered echolalia to be an instance of self-stimulatory behaviour and the matching of the stu­dent's voice with the voice of others to be the reinforcing event. Colleagues reported instances of echolalia speech in typical individuals as well.

Just as we could make sense of echolalia when we viewed it as a matching behaviour, we could make sense of the children's strong attractions to form boards and jigsaw puzzles, which had made little sense to us when we first began developing treatment programs. The majority of the children we observed played with such toys in an ap­propriate manner, even if most other forms of appropriate toy play were missing. The children matched a square puzzle piece to the square hole in the puzzle, a circle to the circle, a triangle to the triangle, and so on. Some chil­dren could quickly and efficiently assemble complex 50-to 100-piece puzzles, even at a very young age. Such islets of intact intellectual functioning or special skills are of­ten observed in children diagnosed with autism.

With a better understanding of echolalia speech, we came to the realization that the matching of stimuli, a consequence of playing with puzzles, constituted the rein-forcer maintaining such behaviour. In echolalia, the child matched auditory stimuli. With form boards and puzzles, the matching involved visual stimuli. The challenge for teachers became one of guiding students with develop­mental delays to take advantage of the powerful reinforc­ing effects of matching and using this reinforcer to teach socially appropriate behaviours.

There are other advantages for the student who learns to match stimuli. These advantages centre on the stu­dent's learning to tell apart (selectively attend to) objects, behaviours, and language elements in her environment to which she may not have paid attention previously. One cannot match two stimuli without attending to them. Matching teaches the student to attend to stimuli, and at­tending to stimuli is necessary for learning the skills taught through the programs presented in this manual.

Before moving on to teach matching and imitation programs, consider why matching of certain visual and auditory stimuli is rewarding for the student. What is the purpose of such a reward? We make the following pro­posal: Although one may occasionally observe nonhu-man animal offspring imitating their ancestors (e.g., some species of birds imitate bird songs), the major contributor to their development appears to be based on instincts, which direct their behaviours in such a fashion that, with minimal learning opportunities, they can survive and re­produce provided their environment remains reasonably constant. Human beings, on the other hand, do not ap­pear to possess an extensive stock of instincts to direct behaviour. We have to learn how to behave, how to raise our children, how to build a house, and so forth. One impor­tant advantage of not being born with a large repertoire of predetermined instinctual behaviours is that human beings are able to adapt to different environments and different demands with greater ease than other animals. A sudden change in the environment of a nonhuman animal species is likely to wipe out most members of that species. In contrast, without a large repertoire of prewired behaviours, members of each generation of human offspring can adapt to and survive in diverse and changing environ­ments by imitating the behaviours of their surviving ances­tors and others around them. In addition to being less in­stinctual, the behaviours of human beings are more complex than those of other animals. Imitation allows for rather rapid acquisition of a larger and more complex set of behaviours, many of which could not be acquired through behaviour shaping procedures. Imitation can therefore be viewed as a mechanism whereby one genera­tion of human beings relatively quickly transfers behaviours and knowledge for the benefit of the next generation. Without imitation, there would be little or no continuity in culture and our children would not survive. In that sense, the matching of behaviours is probably a primary re­inforcer; it is essential for survival and as important as eating, reproducing, and escaping or avoiding pain.

In sum, if a person with autism fails to imitate (fails to learn by observing the behaviours of others), that person is without an important resource for overcoming her devel­opmental delays; therefore, a major goal should be teach­ing the student to imitate. Discrete trial learning can be used to accomplish this goal. Three programs that follow— Matching and Sorting (Chapter 12), Nonverbal Imitation (Chapter 13), and Verbal Imitation (Chapter 22)—help the student acquire the critical skill of imitation.

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