When your reach the playground and ask your autistic toddler, “Slide or swing?,” you never know if your little one will simply point -- or delight you with the word, “Slide!” If he says the word, lavish him with praise, but if he doesn't, just repeat, "Slide!" -- and then help him down the miniature slide. Everyday activities like this are rewarding for both of you as they encouraging bonding as well as help develop your tot's language and motor skills.
Playing a simple game like "Patty Cake" can engage your toddler. As a variation, try "Patty Feet" with your little one. Sitting in front of him, move and clap his feet to the song. To encourage language development, say the words “feet” or “toes” as you gently squeeze his body parts. As you continue to "clap" his feet, encourage him to clap his hands together. This activity, based on the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) for autistic toddlers, can help develop speech and create body awareness.
Interactive ball games may capture your toddler’s interest. Sitting on the floor near your little one, demonstrate the joy of throwing a ball into a bucket. Moving closer to your toddler, encourage him to toss balls into the bucket. Smile each time he throws a ball and sing out “Wheeee” as positive reinforcement. Keep his legs facing you to focus his attention on the activity and encourage interaction. To promote language development, say, “Ball,” or ask “Want ball?” This activity also demonstrates the ESDM approach.
The Mystery Bag
Captivate your toddler by presenting him with a mystery bag containing items, such as toys, small stuffed animals, or action figures. Shake the bag to arouse curiosity and have your little one pick one item. Ask, "What's that?,” or encourage him with a choice by saying, “What’s that – a red truck or a blue truck?” With time, your toddler might provide the answer – or even ask the question. Reward a correct response with praise and let him play with the truck. The words, “What’s that?” appeal to toddlers -- and help develop their abilities to use nouns. This focused behavioral approach demonstrates the Pivotal Response Training method that Dr. Robert Koegel and Dr. Lynn Koegel developed for children with autism at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Appeal to your toddler’s curiosity by hiding a favorite toy and providing the prompt “Where is it?” You could provide the answer, saying "Under the bed," or "On the chair." Once your toddler finds the toy, reward her with praise and playtime with that toy. Rewarding her with a cookie instead could prove confusing. With time, your little one may learn to use “where” questions and understand prepositions showing location. To base playtime activities on the Pivotal Response Training model, you must provide positive reinforcement directly related to the task. But most importantly, have fun with your toddler!
- Autism Speaks: Early Intervention for Toddlers with Autism Highly Effective, Study Finds
- Evidence-based Psychotherapies for Children and Adolescents: Empirically Supported Pivotal Response Interventions for Children with Autism
- Pivotal Response Training and Autism Treatment: What is Pivotal Response Training?
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