Monday, January 9, 2012

Teaching Children with ASD to Initiate

Children with ASD and other disabilities are typically required to follow directions and respond to the initiations from others.  Adults tend to be very directive with children with special needs without even thinking about it.  Typically developing children innately know how to initiate, and do so hundreds of times per day.  However, children with ASD often do not know how to initiate to the same extent as typically developing children.  They may initiate to get their basic wants and needs met, but not to share enjoyment or information, to ask for help, to offer help, to share emotions, etc.  Therefore, caregivers and teachers must focus on teaching children with ASD how to initiate using ABA interventions.  The fact is, if we focus on it, children will learn how to do it.  But, without opportunities to learn how to initiate, they may not learn how to do so.  Pivotal response treatment (PRT) is one ABA approach that focuses a great deal on teaching children to make initiations.  For   more information on PRT go the the Autism Internet Modules link to view an online training module.  Below are some behavioral strategies you can use to teach children how to initiate:
1.  Use time-delay (wait time paired with an expectant look/body language) before prompting right away: It is amazing how a child will learn to initiate more if we stop prompting so much.
2.  Use visual cues:  Picture cues can help children remember what they need to do to imitate.  For example, the picture of the girl raising her hand seen in this post can be used to remind a child to raise her hand when she knows the answer to a question, when she needs help, or when she wants to make a comment related to the topic of discussion.
3.  Use Social Stories: Social stories and other literacy-based behavioral interventions can be used to teach children how to make initiations
4.  Use Video Modeling/Video Self-Modeling: Create videos of peers initiating to teach the desired behavior or take videos of the actual child initiating (even if prompts are going on behind the scenes).
5.  Self-Monitoring: The child can record the number of times certain initiations are made.

Please share some specific examples that demonstrate how you teach children to initiate...


  1. I think the first thing to remember is to use things that are highly desirable, motivating. The first thing that Daniel ever requested was IPod. (his first word). So I always put it some place he couldn't get to and he was forced to point or ask. And than we moved to different toys, food. He learned to ask for help, to get on the swings. To turn on the light in the play room, put bubbles in the bath tub.... We are moving to games, taking turns, sharing. Not that its easy. And it was all you taught me!!

  2. Do you have any instructional strategies for general educators to use for those students with Aspergers?

  3. Great additions Natalia. Using environmental arrangements such as placing desired items out of reach and giving small amounts of desired items is a great way to first teach initiating.

  4. Lynn, are you asking for additional strategies for teaching kids with Asperger's to initiate more? If so, give me some more information about what you are trying to teach specifically.