By timing it right and building motivation, you can help your child enjoy learning new skills.

Many children are delighted by their parents’ approval of learning new things or doing something by themselves for the first time. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), on the other hand, might not be as motivated by approval or praise.

This can make it challenging to teach kids with autism new things and encourage independence. Parents of children with autism often don’t know where to begin. It can be useful to learn how to identify when children are motivated to learn and what to do when they aren’t.

When to teach a new skill

In general, the best time to teach a new skill is when your child really wants something. That something can be a favorite toy, interactive game or yummy snack. The key is to identify what toy, game or snack your child wants, and later learn how and when to deliver it.

Your child might show motivation by:

  • Pointing or reaching to food or toys.
  • Walking toward or standing near a certain item.
  • Looking at you and then at an item.
  • Pushing your hand toward something.
  • Crying or throwing a tantrum when an item is taken away.
  • Asking for something.

Building motivation

If your child is showing or telling you he’s motivated, that’s the ideal time to interact and teach him a new skill. If you aren’t sure what might encourage learning in kids with autism, or if your child rarely seems motivated, you may need to build motivation into your interactions with your child.

Here are some ways you build your child’s motivation:

  • Become a part of any game or activity that your child usually does by himself.
  • Make yourself fun. The activity, whatever it is, should be more fun with you than without you.
  • Try new things. Just because your child hasn’t played with a toy before doesn’t mean he will never enjoy it.
  • Introduce short pauses in repetitive games or right before you give your child an item. This can promote eye gazing, pointing and vocalizations.
  • Move some items out of reach, but where your child can see them, to encourage interaction with you in order to get them.
  • If you feel stuck and need some ideas about new toys, games or foods to try with your child, look for information on how to expand interests in toys and games


    We recognize that every child is unique and that the content of these articles may not work for everyone. This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. We hope these tips will serve as a jumping-off point for finding the best approach to helping a child with autism. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.