How to Teach Turn-Taking to an Autistic Child

Taking turns is a complex social skill that involves patience, impulse control, and appropriate social interaction. Yet, autistic children often struggle with these skills. Many children naturally develop this important developmental milestone, but children with autism may need a more guided approach.

Why is Knowing How to Take Turns So Important?

  • Conversation –If a child doesn’t have the skills to know when to stop talking to allow another person to speak, that can affect their ability to have meaningful back and forth dialogue. Even children who communicate nonverbally through sign language, picture cards, or communication devices also need turn-taking skills.
  • Education – In educational settings, children take turns answering questions, waiting for help, playing games with peers, using playground equipment, etc. If autistic students struggle with turn-taking, this can impact their education and positive social interactions with peers.
  • Relationships – When children struggle taking turns appropriately with peers and family members, it can impact those relationships. Teaching turn-taking skills to autistic children can help them to develop healthy relationships across all settings.

Taking Turns Strategies

There are multiple ways to help an autistic child learn to take turns. The following are easy-to-implement strategies for home, school, or clinical settings.

  • Visual Cues– Many children on the spectrum respond well to visual cues. These cues can be simple hand gestures or a green circle passed during conversation to indicate whose turn it is to communicate.

  • Turn-Taking Language – Use clear terms such as “My turn” and “Your turn” when building turn-taking skills.
  • Model Turn-Taking– Let your child see you taking turns with your spouse or other children and highlight when it happens.
  • Use a Timer – Besides being an auditory and visual cue, timers ensure all have equal time during their turn.

Turn-Taking Activities

  • Playing With Toys – Pick two of your child’s highly preferred toys, one for each of you. Set a timer to take turns playing with them before switching.
  • Board/Card Games – Board games have turn-taking skills built in! Start with very simple games like Zingo or ConnectFour. Then move to less predictable games, such as Uno or Chutes and Ladders.
  • Telling Knock-Knock Jokes – Knock-knock jokes are structured conversations with specific verbal routines for each participant. Teaching your child knock-knock jokes can help build turn-taking skills into conversations.
  • Coloring a Picture Together– Print two copies of the same picture and gather the crayons needed to complete them. For example, a picture of an apple may require red and green crayons. Only provide one of each crayon, building in the need to share and take turns.

Although many children learn to take turns organically, caregivers may need to guide autistic children in helping them develop this skill. However, these easy-to-implement and fun strategies, mixed with a little patience and time, will help!


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