Using Your Child’s Interests to Help Him Learn

When teaching a child a new skill, I am always looking to incorporate his interests into the activity.  Does he like a certain character in a movie?  Is he fixated on numbers?  Does he love bubbles?  To get the most benefit out of therapy, a child should have an active interest in the activity.


For example, I worked with a 4 year old boy with autism today who loved numbers.  It was my first time working with him and at the beginning of the session, he made no eye contact with me and kept running away from me because he wanted to play how HE wanted to play, without interruption.  I was trying to assess any/all of his skills, one of which was writing.  I tried handing him a crayon.  He threw it down.  I quickly gave up on that because I knew I would just have to figure out how to join in his activities.  I finally succeeded when he started playing with a xylophone.


At first I tried singing “Twinkle, Twinkle,” as he banged the bars, which he ignored, and I can’t say I blame him with the way I sing, so I tried counting.  He immediately looked at me.  I counted a few numbers as he hit the bars and then paused and he began to count with me.  After a little while, we came back to writing.  I began writing numbers as I was counting them at the same time.  He immediately tuned into this and helped me count the numbers as I drew them.  After I drew the number 10 (just a vertical line and a circle), I handed him the crayon and he tried to imitate it.  He gave up pretty quickly but the point is he TRIED and was interested in the activity.


If you’re having a hard time coming up with things your child is interested in, observe him for a day or two without trying to get him to play with a particular toy.  What excites him?  What does he gravitate towards?  Does he request any particular activity or toy? Put some toys out – which ones does he go for?  Does he like a particular movie or show?  Some common interests that your child might have that you can incorporate into play are cars, trains, Disney characters, video game characters, or superheroes.  Try writing a list of your child’s interests.


Once you figure out what interests you can use, experiment with incorporating them into play.  If you’re working on picky eating, have Elmo present to take a couple bites of a non-preferred food to give your child more courage to try some too.  If he struggles with writing or coloring, have him color a picture of his favorite superhero.  It’s not always an easy thing to do, it takes practice, and you have to get pretty creative sometimes, but incorporating your child’s interests into learning as often as you are able to will make the process so much easier (and fun!) for everyone involved.


Bio: Andrea is an occupational therapist who earned her Master’s Degree in Health Sciences from the Medical College of Georgia in 2006.  Her areas of expertise include autism and sensory processing disorder (SPD).  She currently owns her own private home-based practice in the North County San Diego area and is passionate about providing humane, effective treatment based on the most current research and treatment practices.  For helpful techniques, tips, and information, follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. To find out information about how to qualify for services with her, visit her website at


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