Tricks to Help Autistic Toddlers

The behavior of a toddler can be troublesome for many parents. Yet, in the toddler years, a direct teaching of communication and social skills is often infeasible. You do have an advantage, however -- a tool bag of tricks. With these tricks, you can take advantage of the autistic trait of ritual-building to shape much of the behavior of your growing child.


The most important trick in helping your autistic toddler is less of a trick and more of a philosophy. Understanding why your toddler acts in the way he does is your cue to adopt a certain strategy toward the appropriate action. Autistic toddlers develop their skills -- especially communication skills -- at a much slower pace than non-autistic toddlers. While it might be natural for a parent to “wish” her toddler to hasten his development, wishing does little. Shifting your viewpoint to the point of view of your toddler can help you drive him toward the behavior you desire.

Motivation via Positive Reinforcement

Autistic toddlers don’t learn how to get what they want or how to get along with others at the rate non-autistic toddlers do. Parents often want to help their toddlers more quickly integrate into the world of normal childhood. For this, clinical child psychologist Christine Williams, the author of "How to Live with Autism and Asperger Syndrome,” recommends positive reinforcement, a technique that works on all children 1. While most autistic toddlers do learn to speak and gesticulate, they tend not to point or use other forms of body language while doing so, making it hard for parents to understand the meaning. Reward your toddler when she points at an object, shakes her head or nods her head in the appropriate way. For example, if a toddler makes the rare movement of pointing at an object she likes, hand it to her. In this way, you are teaching her the meaning of pointing, something many autistic toddlers don’t learn naturally.

Making It Easier for Your Toddler

Even autistic toddlers will need to begin their preparation to enter the social world. Social interaction is a crucial problem area for autistic children. You can make the transition easier by helping your toddler become accustomed to the important aspects of social interaction. Playing games and exposing him to other toddlers are two simple tricks to doing so. You should also address the main problematic social obstructions in autistic children. For example, playing many games that require you and your toddler to be at eye level will allow for more eye contact, a significant problem area for autistic toddlers. Games such as peek-a-boo work well in this regard.


The sounds of an autistic toddler are often unintelligible. While your toddler might be speaking, his speech is likely to be repetitive sounds, most of which are not real words. A counterintuitive trick to helping your toddler to improve his understanding of language is to copy your toddler’s sounds. You will often find your toddler stopping to listen to your repetitions, which can teach him the concept of taking turns in speech. Toddlers often enjoy this back-and-forth exchange of sounds, what adults call “communication.”