Children learn to make decisions and think independently through choice. Choice allows students to not only feel in control, it also helps them learn about themselves. Adults tend to make various decisions for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), leaving them with few or no choices throughout the day. Providing students with choice and verbal reinforcement will help establish positive behaviours and motivation. Additionally, it promotes the development of planning and problem skills, as students must consider the possible choices and what they prefer. Providing a choice can be as simple as allowing the student to choose between a red pen or blue pen, markers or crayons, plain paper or coloured paper, turn right or left during a walk, etc.
During academic tasks, there are many opportunities to provide choice. Begin with providing a limited range of options to the student. For example, when teaching reading decoding or reading comprehension, the student may be presented with two different books to read. Both have been selected by the teacher to ensure appropriateness while considering developmental ability. The option to choose will more than likely ensure the student will complete the task. This will increase engagement, which typically results in increased focus and concentration.
Choices can be incorporated into a daily schedule. Rather than setting up a predetermined schedule, consider arranging some task cards on a table and allow the student to decide the free time task they will complete. For example, during a scheduled break, the student can choose from using blocks, playing a board game, or reading a book. This adds another level of control and motivation. Importantly, only tasks the team want completed or is available to the student should be offered (i.e., do not include computer time if the student is not permitted use the computer at that time.
Allowing the student to choose a reinforcer is another way to ensure its effectiveness (e.g., the student chooses reading as a reinforcer). The student genuinely enjoys the reinforcer and will want to work for it. This way, the student will complete the less preferred task (journal writing) to obtain the preferred activity (drawing with scented markers). This can be done through a choice board and a first/then schedule. The option to choose should be extended to the student in all possible circumstances.
Some examples of choice that can be offered:
- Work alone or with a peer
- Read quietly or with a friend
- Write in your journal or use a computer
- Complete five math questions out of eight
- Juice box or milk for recess
- Kick the ball or take a walk
- Visit the secretary or principal