Motivate and Wait Play Style Part 1

Motivate and Wait describes a play style that focuses on motivating a child with autism and using that motivation to create opportunity for communication. Developmental play therapy is effective in treating autism because it presents the person as the central motivation for the child. This interaction driven motivation helps replicate the natural internal drive to communicate with others that can be lacking in children on the autism spectrum.

Course Category:

Play Therapy 101 -- Section 1

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Course Description:

Motivate and Wait Play Style

  • “Motivate and Wait” refers to the style of play that facilitates social interaction by using children’s natural motivations and curiosities to create opportunities for social communication. In other words, I play with a child until that child is motivated for what I am offering. Then I create space by stopping the action so that they have an opportunity to communicate to keep the interaction going. We do this using few or no demands, prompts or requests. Instead, we rely on the interactions as motivating forces and let that internal desire drive your child’s social development. You become the motivation. Using this style of play is highly effective in teaching your child to be an active contributing participant in relationships. A child motivated by television, will figure out how to turn it on. A child motivated to make little sister cry, will figure out how to do that. A child motivated to play and interact with another person will begin to develop social communication skills to make that happen. By learning this play style, you are gaining a simple yet valuable skill that will help cultivate social growth in your child.

It is not enough to teach your child HOW to speak or interact, we must teach them to WANT interaction. We must teach them to be an active participant in the social process. Not just to do it, but to enjoy it!

  • Are you “requesting responses” or “creating opportunity”? Children on the autism spectrum often experience a style of interaction that requires the child to respond to the adult’s request. Because of this they have a higher level of demand placed on them  when compared to a neuro-typical child. Start to observe how many requests your child gets in a day. Everything from parents’ demands (sit down, eat this, wear this, say I’m sorry, don’t do that, give me a kiss), demands placed at school or therapy (match this, do this, look at me, say this), then to social demands (wave goodbye, say hello, say excuse me, say thank you, look at them). For many children on the spectrum it is all day long.

  •  Note: Making a request is not a bad thing, just understand the difference between making a request and letting your child seize an opportunity.

  •  When you use the motivate-and-wait style of play, you are creating a counter balance to all of the responding practice your child is getting everywhere else. You are giving your child the chance that would otherwise be missed. I am fairly certain that right now your child or the child you are working with gets a lot of practice responding to questions, demands and tasks. This “request and respond” style of interaction, although effective for eliciting responses or memorizing academics, does little to teach your child to be spontaneous and proactive in social communication. In other words, when your child is the recipient of continuous requests the tendency is to wait for a request rather than initiate or spontaneously take part in an interaction.
  • Relationships are reciprocal. They require effort from both parties, if one person is only a “responder” and never an “initiator” that person will seem disinterested and the relationship will break down. “Responding” and “initiating” happen in two different circuits in the brain, most children with autism are strong responders because that is where they are most practiced. In order to be successful in relationships we need both functions. Practice at being an initiator requires replacing requests with opportunities. Practice really does make perfect! This is where the “motivate and wait style” comes in.

Initiating and responding happen in different circuits in the brain, it’s important to exercise both!