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Teaching Kids with Autism — An Introduction to the Basics of Good Teaching

Welcome back to the Partington Behavior Analysts blog. Today’s post marks a turning point in the focus of our articles. Previously, our focus was on establishing an effective plan for teaching kids with autism and establishing an effective teaching relationship. We’ll now transition into discussing the basics of good teaching, answering the age-old question, “What do I need to do to become an effective teacher?” Join our experienced behavior analysts as we explore eight beginning steps for success in your teaching efforts and be sure to check out our helpful resources for parents online. Let’s get started.

Eight Beginning Steps for Success

Assess Known and Unknown Skills

As we have previously discussed, every good teaching plan begins with understanding your child’s known and unknown skills. The WebABLLS/ABLLS-R tool lets you quickly and easily assess all 544 skills in the ABLLS-R, allowing you to develop, enhance, and customize your teaching approach for your child’s specific needs.

Select Developmentally Appropriate Skills to Teach

Using tools like the ABLLS-R, can help you determine reasonable learning targets for your child. Ideally, you want to select developmentally appropriate skills that are immediately useful in your child’s everyday life and ones that are maintained by naturally occurring events. As many as 20 to 30 learning objectives may be selected for children who participate in full educational programs, whereas other children may need fewer learning objectives.

Ensure Motivation

Your child’s active participation is a critical factor in acquiring new language and learning skills. Therefore, in addition to identifying the appropriate skills to teach and establishing a sound teaching plan, it is important to motivate your child’s active participation. This can be one of the most challenging aspects of teaching kids with autism. As we discussed in a previous post, understanding the factors that motivate your child and incorporating them into your teaching plan can help ensure success.

Make Learning Fun

People learn better when the process is fun, and children are no exception. Ideally, your child should enjoy activities that result in them learning new skills. This can be accomplished by approaching the child in a way that indicates the learning interaction will be enjoyable.

You might smile as you approach and use a friendly tone of voice while making it clear that your child will receive enforcement for active participation. However, the history of reinforcement for participation must be established before it is likely to be effective. Ending each interaction on a positive note will also go a long way in making your child’s learning fun.

Ensure the Child Is Attending

In addition to ensuring your child is motivated, it is also important to ensure your child is attending — that is, your child must attend to both the learning materials present, if any, as well as your actions and words. To put it simply, you don’t want to ask your child to do something if they are not clearly paying attention to you. If you speak to your child and they are not paying attention, there is a much lower chance for success as you strive to teach them new skills.






Present Clear Instructions


Giving your child clear instructions is equally as important as ensuring they are paying attention to you. Clear instructions should:

  • Emphasize the critical words the child needs to hear to be successful at the task
  • Eliminate any extra words that draw the child’s attention away from the critical words that identify what they should do

For example, it may be more effective to state, “CUP, give me the CUP,” rather than, “I need a cup for some water, would you please get me a cup?” to prompt your child to give you a cup. This is not to say that you should limit the number of words in your instructions, but rather, reserve extra narration until your child has heard the critical words and responded to the instruction.

Develop Learner Readiness

Learner readiness behavior refers to behaviors that contribute to your child’s ability to attend to and participate in learning tasks. You can help develop these behaviors by reinforcing your child’s behavior of waiting calmly for your instruction, looking to you for instruction, and carefully scanning the materials in front of them before responding to your instruction.

Reinforcement should also be provided for sustained, focused attention during the learning activity, for responding quickly when instructions are given, and for remaining calm as they await delivery of the reinforcer. Using specific praise statements is an effective way of developing learner readiness.

Reinforce Correct Responses

It is crucial to reinforce your child’s behavior when they follow your instruction and respond correctly. When you do so, it is more likely that this behavior will occur again in the future under similar circumstances. In other words, it is important to make sure your child is receiving an adequate payoff for engaging in learning readiness behavior.

Providing praise statements immediately following the desired behavior and providing access to reinforcers on a sufficient basis will help maintain your child’s motivation. Failure to do so could have negative consequences, such as your child losing motivation so that they stop engaging in the desired behaviors.

Help for Teaching Kids with Autism

Teaching kids with autism and other developmental delays requires a specific and diligent approach to ensure the best possible outcome. You can rest assured that you have the backing of an experienced behavioral analyst when you partner with Partington Behavior Analysts in your efforts. View our products, services, and resources online for helpful documents, books, and tools, and don’t forget to check back for the next installment of this series in which we review the use of prompts in your teaching plan.

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