Engaging young children with autism spectrum disorders 10 steps to success
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Engaging Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: 10 Steps to Success!. Dana Childress, M.Ed. Partnership for People with Disabilities VCU dcchildress@vcu.edu. At 11:30, You Will Walk Out of the Door With:. Information about Autism Spectrum Disorders New “tools” for your toolbox

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Engaging Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: 10 Steps to Success!

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Engaging Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders:10 Steps to Success!

Dana Childress, M.Ed.

Partnership for People with Disabilities



At 11:30, You Will Walk Out of the Door With:

  • Information about Autism Spectrum Disorders

  • New “tools” for your toolbox

  • Confidence that YOU can make a difference in the life of children with ASD and their families

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Seeing the World

Through The Eyes of a Child with ASD

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Definition:Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of related developmental disabilities…that affect a child's behavior, social, and communication skills.

American Academy of Pediatrics


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ASD Causes?

  • Most cases – unknown

  • Multiple types of ASD likely

  • Genetic involvement

  • In some cases – may see genetic involvement + exposure to some unknown environmental factor

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ASD Incidence & Diagnosis

51%-91% of children show signs before age 3


1 in 110 Children

Age of Diagnosis 4.5 to 5.5 years old

1 in 70 Boys

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Characteristics of ASD

Social Interaction

  • Reduced attention to faces & voices

  • Increased tendency for isolation

  • Limited social engagement & responsiveness

  • Less likely to show pleasure in shared interactions (joint attention)

  • Less likely to imitate others

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Social impairment in children with autism violates typical parent-child interaction.

Doussard-Roosevelt, Joe, Bazhenova, & Porges, 2003, p 104

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Characteristics of ASD


  • May show less babbling, fewer words

  • Less attention to speech & vocal imitation

  • Delayed receptive language

  • Less likely to coordinate joint attention, gestures, gaze, & vocalizations to request

  • Less purposeful use of language

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The strongest predictor of the child’s future gain in language skills in our study was caregiver utterances that are not only synchronized with the child’s focus of attention but also undemanding in quality.

Siller & Sigman, 2002, p 85

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Characteristics of ASD


  • Restricted interests

  • Less purposeful play

  • Less/lack of turn-taking

  • Interest in parts of objects

  • May show repetitive play, movements

  • Play is less complex, less symbolic

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In children with regulatory and autistic spectrum disorders, interactive play uniquely addresses the core deficits of relating and communicating as no other approach can.

Wieder & Greenspan, 2003, p 425

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So HOW do we begin??

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Step 1:Watch, Listen, & Learn

  • Sit back and observe - child, parent-child interactions, the environment

  • Ask the parent/caregiver about the child’s interests, likes/dislikes, what they do together, what makes the child laugh

    Purpose:Find out about daily activities & routines to determine the context of intervention

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Step 2:Oh…I See!

  • Attach meaning to the child’s sounds, movements, and activities

  • Describe what the child does

  • Use short phrases, fewer words

  • Initially - no expectation that the child must respond

    Purpose:Establishes that activity has purpose & provides a language model

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Step 3:Less Talking, More Doing

  • Follow the child’s lead but help him structure his play

  • Use physical and object-based play to engage the child

  • Use something the child is already doing or playing with

    Purpose:Helps the child understand that interaction can be okay

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Step 4:I Can Do It Too!

  • Start by imitating the child’s movements, activities, vocalizations to enter his play

  • Imitate without the expectation that he has to do something in return

  • When all else fails, imitate!

    Purpose:Develops synchrony between parent and child

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Step 5:Your Turn, My Turn

  • Turn imitation into turn-taking by assuming that it is “my turn”

  • Use the toy/object the child already has

  • Closely observe and accept any interaction as the child’s “turn”

  • Wait for the child to take his turn before play can continue but keep up the pace

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Step 5:Your Turn, My Turn

  • Shape the child’s turn into an appropriate response (gesture, word)

  • If needed, give 2-3 prompts then help him take his turn (fade prompts over time)

  • Keep turn-taking going as long as it is fun!

    Purpose:Encourages expectation that the child must interact

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Let’s See it in Action!Circles of CommunicationDr. Stanley Greenspan

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Step 6:Ta-Da!

  • Use high intensity responses to get attention!

    • Big expressions

    • Silly faces

  • Use anticipatory phrases to entice, prolong attention, and encourage turn-taking

    • Ready…Set…GO!

      Purpose:Encourages attention to face, gaze, and voice

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Step 7:The Power of the Pause…

  • Allow for processing time

  • Create the expectation that the child must respond to continue to game

  • Be prepared to wait…

  • A little discomfort is okay but don’t wait for a tantrum

    Purpose:Allows for processing time and teaches that communication is expected

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Step 8:Rock the Boat

  • Once you establish or recognize a play routine, gently change it so that the child must adjust and interact

  • Keep up the pace of play

  • Protesting is interaction too!

  • Use repetition to practice the old and new routine

    Purpose:Expands the child’s play & communication opportunities

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Step 9:Wrap It Up

  • Wrap new learning in something familiar

  • Watch for the child’s cues

  • If possible, help him do one more step of the new activity before ending

    Purpose:Builds comfort with interaction and new learning




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Step 10:One Brick at a Time

  • Be patient and understand that helping a child develop his abilities to interact, learn from, and play with others takes time

  • Interaction should be fun… look for the bright eyes, smiles, and laughs!

    Purpose:Builds a foundation for effective communication, interaction, and play!

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Okay…one extra step!

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Step 11:Parents Make the Difference!

  • Remember your role as coach & support

  • Parents have the greatest opportunities for intervention

  • Focus on how THEY can use these steps between visits

    Purpose:Supports parent-child interactions within the context of everyday life…it works!

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The greatest sign of a success for a teacher...is to be able to say, "The children are now working as if I did not exist.” Maria Montessori

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For success in science and art, a dash of autism is essential.Hans Asperger

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Let’s put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.Sitting Bull

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