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[Learning-How-To-Learn Series] How To Increase Children’s Initiation In Daily Life: Toddlers

One common myth of ABA therapy is that ABA is a compliance training that turns children into passive learners. This deals with a misconception that in ABA therapy, children are not taught to be independent thinkers but merely trained to react to specific instructions. Same with any learning, no matter in ABA therapy, at school or at home, a child is expected to follow some rules or a code of conduct and carry out routines in order to learn effectively. And given the lack of motivation to socialize and low level of social awareness in most young children with ASD, it is necessary to make listening and responding as a habit to ensure their safety in community, to make caregiving easy, and to accelerate skill acquisition in learning.


However, some parents or even teachers are so used to their child listening to them that they do not create opportunities for the child to think, make choices, and act independently. To avoid causing them to rely on adult’s directions in long run, we should start creating opportunities of initiation at home as soon as toddler years. The following are some recommendations:

  1. Turning a self-help routine as a collaborative task with your child. Although a child cannot be fully independent in self-help at a younger age, we can increase the child’s initiation, attention, and independence by reducing assistance partially. For example, when we help them to put on socks, we can just open and place the sock away from the toes, and then wait for the child to find where the sock is and put his foot into the sock. And we can apply the same idea in other routines, like brushing teeth, taking shower and dressing.

  2. Creating unexpected obstacles in routines and familiar activities. When a routine becomes a child’s habit, we can create minor problems in the routine to make a child think and try to figure what to say and what to do. Some simple examples are hiding one of his shoes away, not filling up his water bottle, putting his belongings in wrong places, etc.

  3. Giving less specific and novel daily instructions. Instead of saying ‘go put on your shoes’, say ‘get ready to leave’ or something new once in a while, to make a child guess and infer what he needs to do from your action and the context.


Although the above recommendations are easy to implement, it may not be easy for our children to respond because they are very used to clear and specific instructions being given throughout the day. It is advised to start with one or two routines that a child is most familiar with and most motivated to complete.


Information provided by:

Ms. Catherine Tam (Autism Partnership Behavioral Consultant)
Ms. Catherine Tam
Ms. Catherine Tam holds a Master of Science in Applied Behavioral Analysis and is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She joined Autism Partnership in 2005 and began working as a Program Specialist. She has extensive experience with children and teenagers with autism in one-on-one and group settings. She is now responsible for providing individual ABA therapy and counseling to teenagers and young adults with ASD, supervising individual cases in Hong Kong, and providing professional training and consultation to families and agencies in Mainland China and overseas countries. She also produces ABA training videos and articles in the APSPARKS website for public education.


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Autism Partnership Shenzhen ASD Conference 2019: Effective Implementation of ABA Treatment for Children with Different Levels of ASD

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