All kids have trouble waiting for things that they want. They even have trouble waiting in line at the grocery store. Waiting is a huge skill. So once our learners have mastered some early instructions, like come here or sit down, then we typically start working on the skill of responding to waiting. Today’s topic is all about how to teach children to wait.
When my children were young and they started learning how to ride their bikes, they felt a huge sense of independence. I stayed way behind them while they rode their bikes so fast that they were about 20-30 feet in front of me. I needed them to stop at the curb because they were too young to cross the street safely. So something that we worked on was my kids listening to me saying “wait” from 20 feet behind them. They knew to wait for me and stop at the curb before crossing.
How to Teach a Child with Autism to Wait
Waiting is a huge safety skill and a huge life skill. You don’t always get what you want right away. Being able to wait a little bit of time to get what you want is really important. We also want our learners to stay safe and not run and dart away from adults. So we developed a program about teaching kids to respond to the verbal instruction of “wait,” with the response of waiting quietly.
We want to start really small and with an amount of time that the student can be successful doing. Don’t expect a student to wait for 5 or 10 minutes when they’re used to not waiting at all. Start by having a preferred item that you know that this student wants and then support them in being able to wait.
Possibly initially say the word “wait” and also hold up your hands and count aloud with the student. Starting with three seconds is a great amount of time and it’s highly supported. Be there with them and help them wait. If they could do that successfully, then you can fade the hands up, and then eventually not count with them. Do all of this while sticking with three seconds.
Once you fade the signal, you fade the counting, and you’re just saying “wait,” then you would start to slowly increase the amount of time that the student is expected to wait before accessing the preferred item.
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Waiting Program for an Early Learner
Here is an example of the program that we would use for a very early learner. This is a learner who has really only started mastering some basic one-step instructions. Start by teaching the highly supported “wait” with your hands up and counting. You can make it really fun. Sometimes we’ll play red light green light or have a race and tell the student to stop and wait. It doesn’t have to be done just at the table.
Do 10 trials of the first teaching step and graph it. They can be in a row or they can be spread out over time. They can also be done naturally. As soon as they are able to show mastery (80% over two consecutive sessions) you increase the amount of time the learner waits and so on.
Waiting Program for an Older Student
A waiting program for an older student who needs to learn to wait before accessing something that they really, really want isn’t as highly supported.
The first step would be to have the learner sit and wait for something that they want. We’d start with five seconds before giving them the reinforcement. As soon as they’re successful for two intervals in a row over two days, then we increase the time.
Go at the pace of the student and if the student shows that 10 seconds is too long, go back to five seconds.
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