top of page

Tips to get you Started

This little excerpt from an early ABA intervention book The Activity Kit for Babies and Toddlers at Risk: How to Use Everyday Routines to Build Social and Communication Skills by Deborah Fein, Ph.D., Molly Helt, Ph.D., Lynn Brennan, BCBA-D, and Marianne Barton, Ph.D., is good for games to start playing with your little one to build skills up before you can start ABA.

See the book on Amazon here

According to the book, teaching toddlers at risk of autism very early in development can have a dramatic and lasting effect on their lives. Here are some specific points to keep in mind when teaching and playing with your toddler. (Note: the following are abridged excerpts from Chapter 3: 12 Rules to Play By. For the full rules, see the book.


Start early 


It is especially important while your child is very young to increase your child’s interactions with adults and help the child learn to enjoy adult company. Even though some children are more capable of learning quickly or making bigger changes than others, whatever changes they can make are more likely to be brought about by intervention very early in life. Don’t let professionals or other parents tell you to wait and see what happens with your child’s development.


Use fun activities to distract a child who is too self-absorbed 


Children should not be wrapped up in their own little world 24/7, engaging in repetitive movements or play; talking to themselves by repeating scripts from TV shows, songs and books; or looking at inanimate objects for extended periods of time and ignoring other people, which is often seen in toddlers at risk for autism spectrum disorder. When a child tends to remain engaged all day in self-absorbed activity, it can be tempting to let him do just that. This is a mistake. Take every opportunity to get the child’s attention, make yourself a source of fun, and make interacting with you so enjoyable that you’ll be able to compete with the interest he finds in those solitary activities.


Use naturally occurring interactions and routines

This allows you to begin with a routine, which the toddler already knows and finds comfortable. You can enter that activity without disrupting it and then shape the routine to incorporate new skills and behaviors. This can be a routine involving mealtime, bathtime, bedtime or any regular activity. The toddler can learn new skills in varied, real-life situations and is then able to better use them in even more new activities with different people. Incorporating interactive routines may provide the child with more opportunities to laugh and smile with caregivers.

Change routines in a funny way 


Once a child has learned a routine, mix it up by doing something different and unexpected. He’ll probably find that surprising and funny. This not only will help direct the child’s attention to what you’re doing, but may also help to develop his sense of humor.


Leave off endings


One technique is to leave off words at the end or in the middle of something and let the child fill it in. If the child fills it in, give enthusiastic praise and repeat a few more times, each time rewarding with praise any attempt by the child.


Help the child include others in play


When playing with your young child, you want her to include you, even if it’s just by looking at you. Sometimes just playing with the same toy next to your child, switching back and forth between imitating her play and demonstrating new ways to play is enough to get her to switch her attention between her play and you.

Get your child’s attention by using what she likes

Using activities, foods and objects that your child likes is very important in

helping you get her attention. Using the objects and activities will provide lots

of chances for her to feel more attached to you, to learn skills and to spend

less time in self-absorbed activities.

Have theme days


Any color can be a theme (Have a “red day” in which you both dress in all red,

eats lots of red foods, etc.). Any animal can be a theme (Fish: Take a trip to an

aquarium, eat goldfish crackers, read books about fish). A favorite food can be a

theme (If your child likes eggs, cook and eat them in various ways, color them,

hide plastic eggs for your child to find). You can create seasonal themes (flower

day in the spring, leaf and pumpkin days in the fall, snow day in the winter).


Teach skills at, or just above, your child’s current level


If your child has no words or gestures, teach simple signs (like “help” and “all done”) or simple words or word approximations (like “baba” to request or label her bottle) as the next step.


Do not encourage independence too soon

When children are slow to learn about social interactions, we want to give them as much practice as possible. To help the child increase his enjoyment of adults, it helps if the child needs adults, not only for basic things like food and clothing but also for entertainment. So when possible, use toys that require an adult’s help, like balloons and bubbles, or blocks for stacking and knocking down.

Involve other family members


 It will benefit your child if there are other adults or an older sibling who can

do some of these activities with her. This will help the child establish other

close relationships and learn to carry over the feelings and skills you are



Don’t forget behavioural principles 


When he doesn’t participate in games with you, prompt him to do these things,

not necessarily all the time, but most of the time. If you’re playing a game or

singing a song where you’re both supposed to clap, you can gently take your

child’s hands and help him clap. If he is not looking at you, you can prompt

attention by putting yourself right in front of him. When he does what you want,

give him enthusiastic praise. Prompting and immediately rewarding the desired

behavior will make it more likely to occur next time.

bottom of page