How to Develop Task Initiation in Children

Initiation is a child’s ability to independently start tasks. Many children with executive functioning deficits struggle with initiating actions, leading to difficulties completing tasks. There is, unfortunately, a lack of research examining effective interventions for initiation. However, the research that is out there strongly emphasizes cueing the “how” and “when” aspects of tasks. Mahone and Slomine (2007) broke down strategies for initiation for several age levels as follows:

Starting Tasks in Preschool Children:
  • Place a variety of age-appropriate toys within reach of the child
  • Model appropriate play with the toys
  • Prompt the child to engage in playing
  • Reinforce attempts at self play
Starting Tasks in School-Age Children:
  • Develop a list of tasks
  • Prompt the child before each step of multi-step tasks
  • Establish a system of verbal and nonverbal signals to cue
  • Reinforce self-initiation on tasks
Starting Tasks in Adolescents:
  • Develop a predetermined schedule with start times
  • Use a prompting system (e.g. checklists, post-it notes)
  • Reinforce developing and using a task list and starting independently
With all age groups, the focus is reinforcing the child for attempting to start work or play on his or her own. The goal is then to have these skills generalize from basic tasks to more complex life skills.

Resource: North Shore Pediatric Therapy
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