Choice-making and your child

Choice-making and your Child

Research studies have shown that providing choices has many positive benefits for children, their families and others with whom they interact. Studies have demonstrated that it promotes positive behaviour, prevents problem behaviour, increases motivation, supports the development of communication, social skills, academic improvements and independence. (Cooper et al, 1992).

Allowing for choice-making gives children opportunities for socially appropriate power and control. Children who have opportunities to make choices are more likely to engage in appropriate activities and have more positive interactions with peers and adults and materials than do children who are not provided with choice-making opportunities.

opportunities for choice

To determine when choice-making opportunities would be beneficial, a first step might be to observe and document instances when problem behaviour occurs. When looking at the information collected, are there patterns in when the behaviour is occurring? Does it happen after school, or at dinner time?

If so, are there opportunities for choices to be put in place, such as when leisure activities are available or homework is done during the time between arriving home and dinner.

types of choices

The second consideration is to determine what type of choice to implement. The choice might be “within activities”, such as what leisure activity to do, for example, either read a book or play a game, with a choice or books and games, “when choices” such as for how long, and “where” choices such as in the child’s own room or family area and “whom choices” such as alone or with a sibling.

start slowly

The next step is waiting for your child to make a choice. Children with communication or processing delays may require additional support such as the presentation of the actual objects or visuals with adequate time to respond and repeated opportunities to practice. Beginning with two choice options is recommended. The choice options that are offered are not unlimited but rather are choices that you are a parent have determined are reasonable and doable to provide. Incorporate your child’s preferences when offering choices. As your child becomes more able to make choices, the number of choice options can be gradually increased.

respond quickly

Once your child has made a choice, that option needs to be presented in a timely manner. Responding quickly positively reinforces your child’s choice making behaviour and encourages your child to participate in future choice making opportunities as well as decreasing the likelihood of problem behaviour.

offer support

If your child does not respond to your choice options, additional support may need to be provided. It might mean that you repeat the offer, present the options again visually, model making a choice yourself or physically prompt your child to make a choice.

Making choices can be a difficult task for some children with autism as it requires the child to select an option from a range of possibilities, and indicate their choice to another individual. For individuals who have difficulty presenting them with a choice board with visual representations of the range of choices available helps the individual focus on the appropriate options rather than on options that might not be appropriate or available.

use a choice board

Using a choice board, the child can verbally select, point to or physically remove and give the visual that represents their choice to someone or place it in a designated space. Choice boards are useful at mealtimes, leisure times, dressing, teaching refusal (yes or no) or anytime that an option is available. It is helpful for all if choice board options are be placed in a location that is accessible to the child (at their eye level and within their reach) for quick and easy use. Visuals for choice boards may be pictures of the actual items or activity or picture symbols such as Board Maker.

Several internet sites, including, provide examples of choice boards. Applications (apps) such as “Choice Board Maker” from iTunes or “My Choice Board” by Good Karma Applications offer computer alternatives that may be very appealing to children who have access to iDevices.

The benefits of offering choices are well worth the extra thought and time that it takes to think of options for your child.