Autism and Decision Making Skills

Decision-making skills for kids with autism can be very challenging, considering you can’t always be exactly sure that they’re picking the choice that they actually want. Neurotypical individuals can make a choice out of three options. But, usually, kids with autism, and even adults with autism spectrum, who have trouble with decision-making, pick the first choice or the last choice and don’t really choose what the preferred option is. That’s why I want to talk about autism and decision making and ways that you can help your child or clients make the decisions they truly want to make. And not rely on repetitive behavior.

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How to Teach Decision Making

In a recent Facebook Q&A, I had someone ask “Do you have any tips on how to teach choices? My son typically repeats the last item said 9 out of 10 times.” Autism and decision making is really a tough thing. A lot of kids pick the first choice if you give them two and a lot of kids pick the second choice when given two or three. The best thing to do is to provide a visual of the options, but that’s not always convenient or possible. You do want the child to be tuning in and picking his favorite choice. One of the steps to making better choices is to use a visual choice board or a visual of pulling out the corn chips and the banana and having the child reach for one and then say the word or say the word and then reach to get it.

Notice Their Intention

One thing I show in some videos in the early learner courses is noticing intent. Say you have pretzels and corn chips in baggies on opposite sides of the table, and then maybe you have the water in the back.  You can see they’re looking and they’re reaching and then you can kind of stop them and have them say or sign.

So those are all good things to think about when you’re having children make choices. A lot of people use tackle boxes for this, but I don’t like that because even with the intent of reaching in the tackle box, you don’t really know what they’re going for.

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Work on Intraverbals

Also think about if they can make an intraverbal choice like “do you want the corn chips or the banana?” If they can’t, its probably because their intraverbals are really weak. In my course is an intraverbal bonus video that I would highly recommend you watch. You can always join the course to get it if you aren’t in already. The intraverbal subtest is a hugely important assessment, as well as the self-care checklist. But the strengthening of intraverbals will help choices as well. 

Autism and Decision Making

And then the final thing is Lucas really had a problem with picking the first response. So we did a couple of things to improve it and it has really improved now. Lucas is pretty good at intraverbals. He knows a banana’s yellow. He knows colors and those sorts of things. So we could ask him questions with choices: “is a banana, red, green or yellow?” Since Lucas always picked the first response, we would put yellow in the middle and then at the end to teach him decision making.

A lot of people were giving Lucas choices and putting the one they thought he wanted in the first position. So he wasn’t really paying attention. So having them answer questions with choices, was a technique that helped. Also sometimes giving him three choices instead of two helped.

Lucas’s behavior analyst came up with a plan that he would repeat the three choices and then make his choice. So if we said you want goldfish crackers, pretzels, or corn chips? He would have to repeat goldfish, pretzels, or corn chips. And then make a choice. So it kind of prevents that knee jerk reaction.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s topic on autism and decision making. I’d love it if you would leave me a comment, give me a thumbs up, share this video/article with others who may benefit. And for more information, you can attend a free online workshop at and I’ll see you right here next week.

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