The Journey from Simple Imitation to Independence

I watched this mother – daughter duo actively involved in doing a puzzle.
Not only did the child have to put each piece of the puzzle in, but she also had to name every item.


A constant stream of instructions emanated from the mother.
‘Put the piece in here.’ ‘Yes, turn it.’
‘Good. What is this?’ ‘You eat with _______.’ ‘How do you eat?’


The mother wanted her daughter to succeed. She maximized each minute by adding language instructions.
This went on for a few minutes.


The mother looked relieved at the end of this.


But my head felt as heavy as lead with all the instructions and the ‘good jobs.’


I glanced over at the petite little girl.


She looked away from the puzzle, the mother instructed her to look back.
I could feel the stress from both of them.


The mother later shared that they normally used an eye patch, as her daughter had a tendency to look away!


I was screaming in my head, by then.


She looks away to regulate herself. Even that is taken away from her by using an eye patch, saying it will help her from drifting?


“What more can I do?” asked the mother.


You’re doing enough, I re assured her. Your daughter needs less- not more. 


The mother looks surprised. What do you mean?


I counter it with another question. What do you really want?


“I want her to be independent. Like every other child.”


Being independent involves being able to think for oneself.
It doesn’t coming from learning more skills.


It comes from the child being intrinsically motivated. If that happens, she will be inspired to learn new skills herself, rather than being pushed all the time.


To make your child an independent thinker, you’ve got to back off.
Give time to your child to think and process.


Do less so that your child can do more.


I urge you to ask your self a few pertinent questions.


Do I believe in my child?


This is something you have to dive into the depths of your life for.
Superficial answers are not allowed.
It’s time to get honest and ruthless with your self.


Watch your actions carefully, lip service won’t do.
How do you talk to your child?
Do you share about your life, your emotions with your child? Do you share about your day?
Do you talk to her like an adult or do you engage in baby talk with a highpitched voice?
Do you give him tasks that are respectful and age appropriate?


During an assessment, a student turned around and said, “But Kamini Aunty, this puzzle is for 6-8 year olds. I’m 11.
It hit me like a bolt.
He was vocal and could express it.
What about my nonvocal students who might have felt the same but could not express it?


Think deeply before putting your answer down in your diary.


What happens if I don’t give instructions?


Mark a 10 minute window to watch yourself.
Count how many instructions you give your child or student.


‘Sit here.” “Take this.” “Put your ipad away.”
“Put the pieces of the puzzle in.” “Put your shoes away.”


Can you imagine what this constant barrage is doing to your child?
It’s giving him the feeling that he is incapable of doing anything on his own and hence needs to be instructed by you.


Let that sink in.


Imagine not giving so many instructions.
Now get back to your diary and write how it would feel to not give so many instructions.


What happens if I let him make mistakes?


I know this feeling only too well.


I’ve seen many mothers literally preventing their child from making a mistake.
For example: Imagine asking your child to get his underclothes before going for a bath.
What if he doesn’t stop at one underwear and vest? What if he picks a second and a third? What does it do to you?


I’m sharing this example as I have experienced it with a younger Mohit.
Unexplained anger welled up.
How come he doesn’t know?


Feelings such as ‘he doesn’t know’. ‘He doesn’t understand’ will over power you too, in similar situations.


But you’ve got to counter it with – If I don’t let him make mistakes, how will he learn?


What’s the worst that can happen if he walks in with 3 underwear and vests in the bath?

You can ask him to put it back after he finishes his bath.


Don’t take away opportunities for learning.


Go to your diary and write about how you’re going to deal with your child making mistakes.


What happens if I follow the 45 second rule?


This rule is worth its weight in gold.


Imagine playing ball with your child.

You’ve tossed back and forth a few times.

He’s got the pattern.

You toss the ball to him and he misses.

Are you going to over compensate for him by getting the ball each and every time?

No. Wait for 45 seconds and see what happens.


He’ll observe you not getting the ball.
He’ll think about what he needs to do.

In all probability, he’ll get the ball in less than 45 seconds.


The idea is not getting the ball and tossing it to you.
It’s to jumpstart the thinking process in your child.


This is where the magic lies.

Try it out.


And now note how you felt in your diary.

communication for children with autism


You will feel free after you implement these points and make it your life style.
Implement each of the points above.
You will find your child moving from mechanically imitating you to thinking for himself.
In the process, he will also be intrinsically motivated to learn for himself.




One of the things that you know gets lost in the majority of autism treatment models is the importance of intrinsic motivation. There’s been such an emphasis on external motivation (reinforcers)that what happens is you start to see children who may have a bunch of little discrete skills but no motivation to sustain life long learning, growth, development and mastery.

#RDI #ASDANewPerspective


– Dr. Steven Gutstein, (RDI Connect)


It can change for your child and you. Reach out. Today.


There’s no need for us to be held back by the past or how things have been so far. The important thing is what seeds we are sowing now for the future.


– Dr. Daisaku Ikeda


Kamini Lakhani

Kamini Lakhani is the founder and director of SAI Connections. She has been providing services in the field of autism for more than 25 years and is the authorized director of Professional Training for RDI in India and the Middle East. She is also the mother of a young adult with autism.


  • Swati Sam says:

    Hi kamini. I loved your blog. I am one more mom who keeps repeating instructions to my very intelligent but physically held back child. He has cerebral palsy, quadriplegia.

    I am looking for learning/ teaching resources for cognitively intelligent, non verbal, physically limited child. Can you point me towards where to look.

    There is a lot of such info for kids who have autism or ADHD. our challengers emanate from physical limitations (also) and need to be dealt a bit differently.

    Best regards

  • It’s easy to get into instruction mode Swati. I was there too – a decade ago. Realisation is the first step towards positive change.

    We will send an email to look into your requirements.

    Best Wishes.

  • Krishna Mahathi says:

    Thank you for writing this.This was an eye opener

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