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Sometimes, Simpler is Better: One Tool for Many Purposes

simple tools can be bestFor years, parents would be surprised when I told them that the computer game I was using with their child during therapy wasn’t some special “speech therapy program.” It was the same one they could buy at any store that sold children’s computer programs.

I would tell my clients (their parents actually), that they didn’t need to invest in expensive products or programs for their children. The games and activities that were already in their home that other children used were just as good as, if not better in some cases, then the “special” products. Often it was the ‘typical’ program that had the familiar T.V. or movie characters that yielded the most interest from the children.

I didn’t need a special program to teach, “turn taking.” Rather, I used the computer to take turns using the mouse, which was much more highly motivating. It actually engaged the child with me, another human being, not just the computer and it was more representative of what could be done with learning to play with other children. It was, therefore able to be used outside of therapy; a skill called generalization.

Being able to use a skill taught in one context in another context is something that many children on the spectrum have difficulty doing. They often learn a skill in one place and then don’t apply it in another because of their rigid style of thought and behavior and difficulty in seeing the connections between two situations.  Therefore, the more we can teach skills in various contexts or have the skills we teach be as applicable in as many places as possible the better.

Let’s take the family computer as an example. Using a computer mouse to teach turn taking is only one of a number of skills that can be taught with this familiar piece of equipment (assuming the computer is a motivator for your child and you already own one). For nonverbal and internally absorbed children, I used the mouse to have them become aware of me, another person in the room. If my hand was on the mouse, typically, the child just continued to grab at the mouse, tried to push my hand away or scream. But, as soon as they looked towards me or at me (depending upon what the goal was), I removed my hand and they got control of the mouse. I should add, I never tell kids to “look at me.” I give them reasons to look at me and then reinforce it with what they wanted in the first place.

For children beginning to use speech, I may engage in the same interaction modeling the word “me” or “my turn” depending upon the child’s language level (one or two words).   This may be accompanied with a hand gesture of my hand against my chest. Once they’ve repeated or approximated the word, they get the mouse.

To expand language, and flexibility, I use the same interaction with the mouse to model and use polite forms (“my turn, please”), questions (“Can I have a turn?”), and negation (“no”, “not yet”).

For much higher functioning children, there are any number of computer games that can teach various skills through fun and motivating activities not specific to the ASD population.  They can support academic skills, encourage interaction with peers while playing together, facilitate problem solving skills, and be used as a motivator/reward to be used independently for play when other tasks have been completed. One computer – many uses and parents don’t need to buy every special program available.

I think parents are sometimes overwhelmed by and even feel guilty if they don’t buy all the ‘stuff’ they think they are supposed to buy for their ASD children.  I am a strong believer in using real world experiences and products already part of everyday life when possible.

Sometimes, you don’t need a drum set, when pots and wooden spoons will do.

Sometimes, Simpler is Better: One Tool for Many Purposes

Diane Yapko, MA

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APA Reference
Yapko, D. (2010). Sometimes, Simpler is Better: One Tool for Many Purposes. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Oct 2010
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