What To Do Outside Therapy Time?


In planning your daily, weekly schedule for your child with Autism-Spectrum Disorder (ASD), you should make a plan to fill up the “dead-time” in your child’s day.

Try an experiment for ONE DAY.  Go through the entire “regular day” with your ASD child and actually count the number of minutes that your child is in “dead time.”  The result may surprise you.

What is “Dead-Time”?

1. Dead time is time OUTSIDE the ABA therapy sessions.

2. Dead time is sitting in a car going from one place to another. Typical children will look around, look out the window, comment on what’s seen, or just chat.  Your ASD child will just sit,  absorbing nothing of value – Your ASD child is in “dead-time.”

3. Dead time is waiting in any lineup, supermarket, room, lobby, hallway, or classroom, as people around the child are either waiting for something or someone, or engaged in busy activity or conversation. Your typical child is usually having at least some fun (or making their own fun by getting into trouble), absorbing the new elements of a different environment.  Your ASD child is in “dead-time.”

4. Dead time also can be that late afternoon time (4-6 pm), when everyone is coming home from school/work, snack-time is on, then supper is getting prepared, maybe the house is getting tidied up a bit. Everyone is a little tired and getting ready for the last part of the day.  Your ASD child just finished a therapy session, but no one is “on” him or her on a one-to-one basis. Your ASD child is in “dead-time.”

5. Dead time is time that your child spends doing nothing while in transit from one place to another, waiting for something else to happen, or waiting for someone to arrive or to go someplace.  Whether or not there are other family members around, there is no one focused on that child — spending one-on-one interaction specifically and exclusively with that child.  There is nothing in the child’s hands on which to focus his attention and learning, even if only for a few moments.

ALL dead time is valuable time that should be filled with SOMETHING. Dead time is usually a very SIGNIFICANT amount of time in the day.  It can be filled up with some consideration and planning, introducing little elements of the child’s program in little pieces at a time.

How can you fill the “Dead Time” with productive learning for your ASD Child?

1) Make every moment count.  Everywhere you go, carry learning items and put those items in your child’s hand. Talk or sing about them. Ask questions and if no answer (not able to), then prompt answers or give the answers yourself.  If you are really busy, just tell your child to hold on to it, stand/sit down on the floor and look at it.

2) Take a PLAY BOX (toys/books/flash cards, etc.) everywhere – Put one in the car, for sure, but also take several regularly rotated items and put them in your purse or a special bag.  The child will see the bag and possibly become familiar enough with it to seek out new items from you while waiting somewhere.  This is fun for everyone.  In driving long distances, it is hard for most children to be patient and “wait.” Driving short distances is sometimes tough, too, and usually there are a LOT of these in a typical family’s week.  Put a toy or book or single flash card in your child’s hands.   Make sure that it is stuff that can easily require interaction from you but not be too distracting while you are driving.

3) Frequently change what is in the child’s hands. Then s/he can’t just get fixated on the item and/or totally bored. When driving and coming to a stop sign, take the item away and put another one in his/her hands.

4) Talk – talk – talk — about what is in his hands, so there is always some form of communication going, no matter how basic or advanced your ABA Program is at any given moment in time.. While you are driving, talk about the item in his/her hands.  Try to elicit a response – ask questions, etc. Ask questions and model the answers/statements so that the child practices language EVERYWHERE at every opportunity.   Rotate the toys he/she has at every opportunity.  At a stop sign, take that one away and put another one in his/her hands.  Then talk about the new item.  If there are other children in the car, get them involved in the discussion as well.  If there are songs related to the item, sing them all together.  Do not put the radio on and say nothing ANYMORE.  This is valuable time. Make use of it.

5) Get verbal interaction going with everyone in the car– get him to repeat words, answer questions, ask him to point to body parts (or make a game with everyone in the car, someone in a line-up, etc. so that s/he can see and copy — “OK everybody — touch your nose, etc.)

6) Engage other children in a group activity anytime and anywhere you can.  Parents of other kids usually do not mind if you take single opportunities to engage their child in conversation while waiting somewhere.  Ask your ASD child “Look at that little girl – what color is her coat”, etc.  Or get them both to look at something and tell you what it is.  This is peer interaction.  Take those brief single moments presented to you, or create them as you go, and use them to full advantage.

7) For those busy family times where no one is “on” your ASD child – Admit it.  You can’t do it, so get someone else on the job.  If you have older siblings, assign a rotational 10 minute toy/ play task or some gross motor games (hopping, jumping, tossing).  Or if you must, invite or hire local neighborhood children or teenagers to come over for the dead time period – even if it is just for ½ hour.   They come cheap, they can come over right away and walk home. You just have to ensure that you plan appropriate and simple play activities (not ABA drills).

Every minute of every day counts.

Filling in every moment of “dead-time” with productive learning and social interaction is what generalizing is all about. In order to learn, your child needs to interact with the environment, but your child cannot yet do it on his/her own.

Like everything else in your child’s program, however, this needs a PLAN OF ACTION. If you add up all the minutes of dead time and then add up all the hours, just think about what else could be practiced and learned during that time.