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Why You Should Ditch the Toys When Working with Young Kids on the Spectrum

Truth or dare?

Truth: How often do you rely on toys and screens in therapy?

Dare: I dare you to ditch the toys for half of your treatment session and see what happens.

Fact: Kids on the spectrum often have difficulties with joint attention.

Fact: Kids on the spectrum who have difficulties with joint attention, also often lack motivation to communicate.

Fact: Kids who lack motivation to communicate tend to be difficult to engage. It looks something like this:

a) poor joint attention ->

b) poor engagement ->

c) decreased motivation to communicate ->

d) use of toys in therapy sessions to motivate child which does nothing but promote ->

a) poor joint attention...

It’s a vicious cycle, can you see?

This is why we need to shake things up a bit and work from the bottom up, like this:

Therapy should target

a) increased motivation to communicate which leads to ->

b) increased engagement which leads to ->

c) improvements in joint attention ->

d) improved language

The problem is, that we want the child to be motivated by us, not the toys. We want the child to want to connect with the person, rather than fixate on the thing.

I’m not saying that toys should never be used in therapy sessions. But I am saying, try to be less reliant on them. When you take away the toys, you will actually spend more time thinking about getting the child to connect with you, rather than getting the child to communicate just to get a want or need met.

If we spend more time focusing on our connection with the child, we will spend our time focusing on what is really going to build a sturdy foundation for language development: attention, engagement, and motivation to communicate.

Jessie Ginsburg, M.S., CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist, autism expert, and owner of Pediatric Therapy Playhouse, a multidisciplinary clinic in Los Angeles.

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