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Teaching vs Doing

teaching vs.doingAs I ponder the accommodations we make for children on the spectrum, the old saying “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime” comes to mind.

There is a fine line between helping kids to accommodate by doing things for them, albeit with good intentions, versus teaching them the skills for acclimating to circumstances.

How often have you anticipated the frustration that a child may experience in class or in a social context and excluded them from the experience as a way to accommodate to their needs? Too much noise, too much excitement, too much stress, too much ‘fill in the blank.’ We want to be helpful, we want to avoid the situations that cause our kids on the spectrum to be stressed, but are we doing what is in that particular child’s best interest?

I think the answer is complex. It’s certainly not all or none. I’ve talked in previous blogs about being proactive and anticipating situations. But, by doing things for kids (e.g., removing them from a stressful situation), we may not be serving them well in the long run.

It depends upon the individual child and how to best help them develop the coping mechanisms they will need for handling life experiences. Maybe at first, avoidance is the best option. But, then, learning to recognize the cues of stress within the person and learning to cope with that stress is likely to be more useful in managing day-to-day situations where there are not people who can always accommodate to our children’s special needs.

There will be some people who automatically assume we need to protect our kids and anticipate their needs, redirect them, repeat directions, organize their work, their schedules, and their life. There will be other people who advocate for teaching kids the skills they need and letting them handle the unfortunate stressors of life since ‘real life’ doesn’t have parents, teachers, aides and careers always available. My point in writing this blog is to find that balance in which we begin to recognize what we’re doing and why we’re doing it to know if it is in fact, serving the greater goals for a particular child.

When a child isn’t paying attention in class, is it better to have the teacher or aide tell the child to pay attention or to ASK the child what are the other children doing? Teaching a child how to observe, how to ask a question, how to do something they don’t know is very different than doing it for them.

Each child will be different in how much support versus independence they can handle initially. I’m certainly not suggesting we drop anyone into the deep end of the pool without a safety net, but learning to build skills by teaching our children sometimes gets lost in trying to help them in every day situations by doing things for them.

Teaching vs Doing

Diane Yapko, MA

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APA Reference
Yapko, D. (2010). Teaching vs Doing. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Nov 2010
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