We’re so used to telling children with autism what to do – stand up, sit down, look here. That seems to be the way many people think our children learn.

Do we want passive children who wait to be told what to do? Or do we want children who can think on their own? Do we want our children as adults to stand around and worry about what might happen? Or do we want them to figure out what to do?

The passive approach leads to dependence on others. Active thinking leads to problem-solving and greater independence.

Children need to be engaged and involved. They need to participate actively and think on their own.

Here are six things to get this started:

1. Help your child understand the meaning and purpose of things you ask them to do. Children (like anyone else) are more likely to be interested in activities if they see some purpose. Explain in simple words why you’re doing activities and why you’re using different strategies – “We’re practicing doing Turtle Breathing to help your brain and body feel calm”, “We’re brushing your teeth so they stay healthy and strong”, “We’re being systematic so we don’t miss anything.”

2. Prompt them to think on their own – This is difficult for a lot of adults because it means waiting. You have to be prepared to wait and give children time to think. Encourage them with positive messages – “I know you’ve got lots of good ideas”. Don’t worry if your child struggles a bit. Be patient and calm and let them try. Use questions to prompt them – “What can you do to help yourself?”, “What do you think we’re supposed to do here?” If your child seems stuck, give some hints – “Is there something missing here?”, “It might be easier if you did this part first”.

3. Give them a chance to show what they can do – Give your child freedom and confidence to do things on their own. Children often surprise us when we give them a chance. Stand back and let them try on their own. Let small errors pass. Praise what they can do. We want our children to be unafraid of trying. They need to learn that making mistakes is part of learning.

4. Make your child feel competent – Feelings of competence come from experiencing success. Encourage your child with patient interest in what they’re doing. Be positive even if your child doesn’t do what you expected – “Hmm, that’s really interesting. Help me understand what you did.”, “That doesn’t look like what I got. Let’s check it out.” Avoid negative words, like “no”, “not” and “don’t”. They can stop your child from trying. 

5. Give your child a sense of control – Your child needs to become the commander of his own body, thinking, and emotions. Let them try things out without fear of being corrected. Of course, you’ll choose the activity carefully so they’ll be safe. But let them try out their wings.

6. Share activities and experiences with your child – Children need to know we’re there to support them. If they have problems, we’ll be there. The other side of that is that we expect them to be actively involved with us. There’s a sense of ‘we’ when doing activities. Use the word ‘we’ to signal to your child that it’s the two of you working on a task or activity. Let your child make some choices about what to do, how and/or when. This gives them a feeling of participating rather than being told what to do.


Photo by Kiana Bosman on Unsplash