January 29, 2024

Pro Tips: Practicing Waiting

Pro Tips provided by Claire Spangenthal, MA/SC, NCSP, BCBA, unit director at Summit Academy Enhanced.

The amount of time we spend waiting throughout our lives is incalculable. We wait in line at the grocery store, we wait for our turn at a stop sign, we wait to eat a meal until we are hungry, we wait to cross the street. For individuals with autism, waiting can be challenging even if it’s for a few seconds. It’s an important skill children need to develop for day-to-day life and can help with safety skills, learning to communicate, and accepting no. Below are our tips to teach your child how to wait:

1. Set your child up for success

When you begin teaching your child how to wait for things they want, it’s best to choose a scenario in which they are going to be most successful. Pick something low stakes such as playing with a lesser preferred toy. Have your child wait a short amount of time to start, such as a few seconds. Acknowledge their communication, ask them to wait for the allotted time, and then deliver the item after they have waited. You can gradually increase the amount of time once they become successful waiting a few seconds.

2. Provide alternatives or distractions

If a child has nothing to do while they’re waiting, it makes it that much more challenging for them to wait appropriately. Provide alternatives such as other toys or activities they can engage in while they’re waiting for what they want.

This is crucial for things that may be long-term, such as waiting for holidays, vacations, and school events like prom or graduation. In these scenarios, parents can use visuals like a countdown or have activities planned to get ready for the trip or holiday their child is asking about.

3. Check in with your child’s teaching or behavior staff

Ask if learning to wait is part of your child’s curriculum and what strategies their staff are using. If you’re having trouble with teaching to wait at home, discuss your concerns with your child’s team so they can help support that goal.