Children with and without disabilities have been shown to learn skills in a variety of ways. For example, in the case of discrete trial teaching, children learn skills through explicit instruction, prompting, and reinforcement.
In the case of instructive feedback, children learn information that is not directly taught or reinforced.
In the case of observational learning, children learn skills that they have seen another, usually a peer, perform (Garfinkle & Schwartz 26).
Observational learning has been used to teach young children with disabilities a variety of skills, including self-help and safety skills, discrimination tasks, and language skills (Garfinkle & Schwartz 26).
Unfortunately, many young children with developmental disabilities, particularly those diagnosed with autism, have deficits in generalized imitation skills (Garfinkle & Schwartz 27).
Thus, there is a need for continued work in developing and evaluating interventions designed to teach young children with special needs peer imitation skills. Five reasons follow:
1. Peer imitation is an important developmental skill.
- Effective teaching strategies (i.e., obser- vational learning) are predicated on peer imitation skills.
- Children with special needs often have deficits in peer imitation skills.
- There has been little empirical work that has evaluated strategies designed to be taught in the context of contemporary preschool activities.
- Few studies have examined the broad effects of learning peer imitation skills (Garfinkle & Schwartz 28).