Break Away From The Norm: Teach Your Autistic Child The Way He Learns

I met a wonderful couple with a delightful 5 ½ year old son.

While chatting with the mother, the topic of academics came up.

She was satisfied with working on the core deficits of autism based on Relationship Development Intervention

But she was concerned about academics.

Every parent wants their child to know his/her basic colors, shapes, numbers, letters and labels- and rightly so.


“When I’m working on RDI principles, I slow down and connect emotionally with my child.

But when I teach concepts, I get very instructional.

It’s like doing 2 different things.

Can I teach academics the RDI way?” She asked.


“Of course, you can teach without being instructive and overbearing,” I responded.

I volunteered to demonstrate a session. It turned out to be fabulous.

We both (the child and I) enjoyed it thoroughly.

We ‘worked’ for an hour, but could have gone on much longer.


Dear Parent,

Do you struggle to teach your child?

Does he get bored easily?

Do you find it exhausting to spend time with him?

Do you feel you’re missing something important but can’t put your finger on it?


If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of the above- this article is for you.


Follow these steps to teach your child effectively.


  1. Minimize instructions


Most therapy sessions involve questioning the child. ‘Touch red’, ‘find apple’, ‘what shape is this?’ ‘Do this’ (to imitate an action like clapping hands).

If you present an activity well, you don’t need to instruct.

For example: If you’re working on sorting balls of different colors, keep that activity clear and central. Remove the clutter.

Lay your baskets out.

Don’t instruct. Slow down.

Demonstrate to your child what you’re expecting and give him time to observe. When he’s ready to take responsibility, give him a role.

Hand him a ball.

Build it up one step at a time from there. Stretch him a bit- one step at a time.


  1. Include movement


This is epic and unconventional.

Our traditional settings involve sitting across the table to work.

Movement helps immensely.


How many of you get ideas while walking or exercising?

There’s a scientific reason for it. Walking promotes neural connectivity and enhances learning.


What works for us, also works for children on the spectrum.

Once your child is regulated, he will be better able to sit at a desk and work with you.


  1. Let your child experience it


Every concept need not be taught via flash cards.

You can actually build a lesson around simple concepts.

For example- you want to teach your child about fruits.

You could begin by sorting fruits.

Peel an apple or orange. Share and eat together. Connect emotionally while  enjoying it.

Create an activity of putting the fruits away in the refrigerator or fruit basket. You can hand him the fruits and he can put them away.

Let him learn by experience. Enhance the experience with flashcards. Do not rely solely on flash cards.

Make it authentic.


  1. Slow it down


A couple of decades ago, during my training, I was asked to prompt the child if he didn’t respond within one second.

Over the years, I realized this only led to frustration – in the child and in me.

Time is the best gift you can give your child.

If he averts his gaze to look away from you, don’t touch his chin or cheek to turn it towards you. Just hold space for him- he will turn towards you by himself.

This is the respectful thing to do.

It will create a trusting relationship between you and your child.

Once you give time, you will see behavior issues de escalating.



  1. Include all modalities


Back the actual experience with pictures and words.

Once he sorts items of different colors, voice the colors. Show him how the color name is written. The ipad, used appropriately, is a great teaching tool. Find sorting color games your child may enjoy.

Read a story about colors.


Your job is to provide input in a meaningful way to to your child.

His sophisticated brain will put it together in a way he learns.


  1. Declarative communication


Use experience sharing language instead of instructional language.


We get so involved in ‘extracting’ from the child, that we don’t share our own thoughts.

Share your feelings- then pause. Does your child connect with you? Would he like to share something?


While you read a book about colors, comment on your favorite color and look at your child. Will he share his favorite color with you?

Don’t limit emotional sharing to words. Even if your child is non vocal, does he share via pointing or gestures. Do you see his eyes light up?



  1. Invest in your emotions


Be present and joyful while you interact with your child.

Don’t view it as a chore to be completed to make him well.

Rather, enjoy the opportunity to connect with him/her.



If you find your interaction as a task, look deep within and introspect.

How fulfilled are you personally? Do you nurture yourself?

You can’t give from an empty cup.


Try these 7 steps, my friend.

You’ll feel buoyant. Teaching your child will no longer be a struggle. Instead, you’ll enjoy the time spent with him and look forward to spending even more time with him.

He will learn his concepts and at the same time build an emotional bond with you.

Believe me, you’ll kill 2 birds with one stone.


However, you’ll have to make one shift in your mindset.

Believe in your child. Know he understands everything- even though he may be non vocal at present. Believe in your child despite the behavior issues.




I believe with all my heart the autistic brain is a highly sophisticated brain which doesn’t learn the conventional way.

Like you, I spent years getting carried away by the extraneous behavior the children presented.


But I learned to peel away the layers, slowly and one by one.

And beauty emerged- in it’s most pristine form.


Today I stand mesmerized by the autistic brain.

I’m amazed at how these wonderful individuals learn.


You can get there too.

Have that confidence in your child’s ability.

When you give him confidence to be himself- he will shine brilliantly.











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