Imitative Play

Imitation and pretend play are among the most important ways that children learn about the world and relationships with people. The foundation for this type of play begins when young infants form secure attachments with the important people in their lives and explore their surroundings. They imitate other people, in order to understand how objects are used and as a way to get and keep the attention of others.

Sharing Thoughts about Imitation and Play

Teaching Strategies, PDF download

Children who are deafblind and visually and multiply impaired, especially those children who have limited vision, frequently do not engage in imitative play because they cannot see what others are doing like a typically developing child would. So how do we get them to engage in imitative play?

The adult imitates the child

In the beginning the adult must imitate the child in something the child does. It might be a vocalization or a movement,  This is the way we let the child know that we see them and what they are able to do. It also lets them know that we can do that thing, too.  This is what Dr. Jan van Dijk refers to as “following the child’s lead” and what Dr. Lilli Nielsen refers to when she discusses Phase 2 Imitation in her book, Are You Blind?

Here are some things to remember about imitation:

    • The child’s main area of interest, or topic, is sometimes her own body. This is especially with children who don’t have a lot of easy access to input outside their bodies. These are the types of activities that have been referred to as stimulatory behaviors, or “stimming”. They may consist of whole body movements, like rocking or swaying, or of smaller movements, like tapping the hand on the chin, twirling the hair, etc.
    • The topic may be an object. If our students interact with objects, they might have a certain thing they like to do with those objects. This is a way they learn about objects. It is also a topic of interest to them. This is not the time to teach them what to do with an object, but rather, to learn from them by doing what they do with the object. This can include auditory games that they do with objects. They might tap, shake, etc. Doubles of objects are important when the child will not share the object or let you touch it. Procure identical or similar objects to the preferred ones so that you can imitate the student’s action without stealing her toy.
    • The topic may be the voice. Respond with your voice to the child’s voice. Even children with profound hearing impairments can feel the vibration of the sound resonating within another person’s chest if there is close physical contact.


Interaction and Bonding  Imitative Play Strategies

In this video Outreach VI Consultant Sara Kitchen discusses imitative play strategies that help in developing a bond with the child.


Student guides the teacher

In this video example, the teacher is giving the student pressure on his head and rubbing his neck, following his lead. The student guides the teacher’s hands to his head, which is his topic.

Mirroring actions with light contact

In this video example, the student sways back and forth and the teacher sways back and forth while trying to engage him in a lotion activity. They have occasional light contact.


Imitating something new that the student introduces

In this video, the student acts upon an object and the teacher imitates what he is doing. At one point, she surprises him by imitating the new thing that he had just done, which was using two objects together.

Vocal Imitation

In this video and young boy and his father have fun together vocalizing.



Barbara Miles. Conversations: Connecting and Learning With Persons Who Are Deafblind. Perkins School for the Blind.

Dr. Lilii Nielsen, Are You Blind?