Encouraging Spontaneity for a Child or Adult on the Autism Spectrum

“Prompting or assisting our children to learn certain skills can be very helpful in the early stages of teaching a new skill. However, eventually, we would want our children to be able to use that skill spontaneously (on their own, without the prompt) for the skill to have an impact in their lives. For example, if my child is not yet saying the clear word “water”, then it is super helpful for me to prompt, help, and model how to say that word. However, eventually, this will only be helpful to my child, if they can say the word “water” on their own, spontaneously (and not prompted) when they are thirsty. This way, my child will be able to communicate with the people in their lives when they need a cup of water. The same applies to many, many other skills. For example, I am sure you would like your child to be able to:

• Tell others what they need or want when they cannot get it themselves
• Initiate conversations with people
• Initiate social interactions with people
• Initiate games with peers
• Be flexible and able to come up with new original ideas
• Express original thoughts and make original comments (and not just repeat something they’ve heard somewhere else)

“These are all examples of our children being spontaneous!

“Many therapies and educational approaches focus primarily on teaching our children to respond to prompted requests, but don’t really focus on helping our children to be spontaneous (and apply the learned-prompted skills in spontaneous ways).

“Here are some techniques that are unique to The Son-Rise Program, and you can use them to encourage more spontaneity for your child or adult on the Autism Spectrum:

• Allow your child to say and do what they want to (as long as it is safe). What our children say and do is an expression of what is important to them. If we stop them from doing this, we are discouraging them from being spontaneous (and really from being themselves). Hint: this includes allowing your child to do their repetitive behaviors.
• Get excited about what your child says and does! Again, remember – this is their genuine (unfiltered) expression of who they are and what they like to do. We want to hear and see that from them – we want them to be spontaneous. Appreciate and acknowledge your child’s self-initiated gestures, language, ideas, etc.
• Instead of using repetition as a way to teach your child a new skill, use your child’s intrinsic interest and motivations. Our children would have no reason to want to say “water” if in that moment they don’t need or want water. On the other hand, if this child is thirsty or enjoys playing with water, they are more likely to initiate saying that word. If my child enjoys it when I sing, they are more likely to want to say “sing” spontaneously.
• Nurture your child’s desire to want to connect and engage with people, by making social interaction really fun for your child.

“It is easy to fall into the habit of always prompting our children to do the skills we want them to learn. However, a prompt-dependent child repeating a skill many times, might not become self-motivated, or able to use this skill in a spontaneous and intentional way.

“Start today by acknowledging and getting excited about your child’s self-expression (what they say and do when left to their own devices). Become a detective of what motivates and interests your child when helping them with learning new skills! And, most importantly have lots of fun during this process!”

Written by Camila Titone, Senior Son-Rise Program Teacher

2 Responses

  1. Priti Hurwitz says:

    Love this article. I often stop my son when he is playing with water in the kitchen. This opens my eyes to his spontaneous behavior. Thanks so much for making us see all the small BIG things in our day to day lives.

    • Autism Treatment Center of America says:

      How wonderful, Priti, that you were able to change your perspective about your son’s behavior and see his spontaneity in action! And, yes, his actions were truly BIG! We imagine this will be significant for both you and him.

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