6 News Skills to Teach to Your Child with Autism and How to Practice them During the Holiday Season

December 7, 2020

The holiday season brings many “Real world” opportunities to teach (and practice) new skills. But these can be a blessing and a curse. Good because there's no better time to practice something than when the moment presents itself. Bad because time does not always allow for the patience necessary in teaching and helping someone practice these skills. If you’re running late for a family dinner, it’s probably the worst time to practice tying shoes. If we’re up past bedtime and overtired, independently brushing teeth may not be the main focus.

Allie Hoff

AnswersNow BCBA

The holiday season brings many “Real world” opportunities to teach (and practice) new skills. But these can be a blessing and a curse. Good because there's no better time to practice something than when the moment presents itself. Bad because time does not always allow for the patience necessary in teaching and helping someone practice these skills. If you’re running late for a family dinner, it’s probably the worst time to practice tying shoes. If we’re up past bedtime and overtired, independently brushing teeth may not be the main focus.

So, when? And HOW!? 

When time is not on your side, look at the days to come and “schedule” times when you can expect to be patient in practicing these skills.

Sharing

This is one of those times when ‘where we want to be’ is quite far from ‘where we’ll start.’ 

So, where do we start and HOW do we get started?

To increase the chances of success, start with something of “neutral ownership.” In other words, avoid using toys that are clearly “Tommy’s train” or “Sissy’s iPad.” Bring in something new to the child. Maybe someone else gets to (briefly) explore the item first. Provide your child the words to ask for the item appropriately (“can I see?”; “my turn” with hands out; tap them on shoulder + “my try?”) and assist them in waiting (without touching!) for the other person to hand them the item. (“Hands down...like this” (model hands together in lap) … “We’re waiting...nice job!” “Waiting is hard - It’s almost your turn!”)

Keeping “turns” short (like ‘20 seconds’ short) is one way to promote quick practicing across turn-takers. When it’s someone else’s turn, follow through with the passing of the toy. It is quite possible that your child will not be ready to end their turn and have trouble giving up the item. Maybe they’re protesting or flat out refusing. This is when we wait them out. Of course, someone could snatch the item from the child, but that will only send things downhill even faster. Maybe they run away with the toy? Follow them, with one hand out ready to accept the toy for the turn ending, and the other hand holding alternatives to offer while waiting for the next turn. It’s also possible that they just chuck the toy across the room. Fight the urge to instruct them to go pick it up (that’s not the battle we’re picking right now). Sure, throwing toys isn’t appropriate; but in this situation, they’ve actually given up the toy. Yes, it was thrown; but it’s closer to sharing than tightening their grip or hiding it in their pocket. So, let it be and anticipate them doing that the next time so you can be ready to prompt before they’re ready to launch.

 

Tying shoes

This is a good skill to practice when the activity that’s coming is a preferred activity, such as leaving the house to go to the park, playing outside, going to grandma’s house, going for a picnic, etc.

Sometimes we get so mesmerized by our child’s progress that we forget to cheer them on! Be the narrator when you’re watching your little one persevere through this task. Noticing some frustration? Tell your learner, “if you need help, say ‘help me’” (or something that is close). Even a simple sound such as “haa” for the H is a step in the right direction. If your child has at least tried and is beginning to show their patience is maxed out (slamming the shoe on the ground, sighing or grunting), you can give them a prompt for something even better --“It looks like you’re frustrated. Say ‘all done!’” (or “break please”).

Tickling, chasing or playing tag, surprising others (peek-a-boo)

Activities with a valued participant, such as being chased by dad, can become an invaluable opportunity to teach some needed language. If Dad can turn around and have his back facing the child or pretend to be deep in a book, prompt your child to take notice and then feed them the line, “hey Dad, look at me!” or simply just “hey!” When you hear the desired speech, Dad whips around to face the child with a huge smile or drops the reading material and immediately focuses his eyes on the kiddo with an enthusiastic “look at you!”

Waiting

Say, “wait” while holding the toy or items for the activity. Gesturing the number “one” is helpful for additional communication. If your child is unfamiliar with the instruction or begins to protest, wait for a second of calm before saying, “please show me calm, put your arms down.” This allows the child to follow an instruction (while waiting) that can be reinforced with the item or activity. This is a good skill to practice when YOU have a little extra time. This process may need to be repeated until your child shows calm behavior. Fortunately, you have a reward ready to go when that learner is ready to follow instructions.

Reading a book

Hold your fingers ready to turn the page. As your child eagerly waits for you to turn the page, give them an opportunity to ask for it. Tell them, “say ‘turn the page’” (or something simple or more complex, depending on your child’s skills). After they try to repeat what you’ve said, honor that practice attempt and turn the page. 

Notice what your child or learner is pointing to or perhaps fixated on. If they are focused on animals, for example, try fun “fill-in” phrases. For example, “look - it’s a duck! A duck says…” or “which animal says ‘quack! quack!’?” 

Independent play

Maybe your child prefers playing by themselves. That’s ok! There are still lots of ways to teach skills, especially language, with learners who like to play independently. Any time your learner does things as a result of your actions, there is something being communicated. For example, if you attempt to sit by your child or help/play, and your child moves away – they are probably saying, “you’re too close” or “leave me alone” or “these are mine.” One thing that can be tried is getting close to your child again and immediately feeding them the words, “move” or “go away.” After your child gives it a try, honor their practice attempt and show them what it means to ask for space.

This process can be repeated, and I would encourage you to narrate as you go! After you’ve given your child some space, you can say, “I’m coming back.” As your child acknowledges you, and you are close enough, prompt them again with the same instruction as before. Your child may get frustrated (using arms to block you from getting close, pushing/shoving, throwing toys). It’s possible that they are not quite familiar with what’s going on AND it’s not the way they are used to playing. Start simple and use those opportunities also, because being frustrated is a part of life too! After or when your child is calm, simply go back to what you were doing before your child showed frustration. Attempt to prompt another simple request, such as “all done” or “no more.” When they give it a try, repeat what they said (“ok, all done”) and honor it. 

Frustration during these practice opportunities is very likely, and that’s ok. It’s a very real emotion, and everyone is entitled to feel that way. While we don’t want to reward inappropriate ways of coping, we also don’t want to push too much teaching when your child is not in a great “place.”  Always consider the amount of sleep, hunger versus being full, and how much your kid has already had to “put up with.”

 Curious how to use a tablet or iPad to teach language? Click here for a short video on how YouTube can be used to practice language.Tips in this video can also be used during other activities that have repetition or frequent opportunities, such as dumping & refilling containers.

Our team of BCBAs is always ready to work online with your child in a schedule that works for you. Learn more at getanswersnow.com.

Allie H.

AnswersNow BCBA

Specializes in:

Emerging language and development, play & communication skills, functional assessment, training replacement behaviors, problem behavior reduction

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