How to Teach Your Child to Learn by Himself

This blog post was originally published on the SAIConnections blog page. To read the original article, go here.

“Why doesn’t my child listen to me?… Why do I have to tell him to do something five times before he does it?… Can’t he understand that I’m upset and I want to be left alone?… Why does he keep pinching me, even when I shout at him and ask him to stop?… He’s learned to say many words, but why doesn’t he use them?… I know he’s intelligent, but why does he not use his intelligence for studies?

Do you find yourself asking these questions?

As a parent, you know that something is missing. But you can’t quite put your finger on it.

You know your child’s potential – for you have seen the intelligence. And sometimes you’ve seen sparks of brilliance too…

Three years ago, Shraddha’s family came to me with similar questions.

We had managed to build up language. Our data sheets showed progress. But, she was not applying what she had learned.

We decided to change our strategy. We worked on one thing right away.

Here is the result of our work. (If you hold on till the end of this post, I will tell you what that ONE CRUCIAL element was.)

Enjoy this video. I promise you, Shraddha will mesmerize you with her smile.

Don’t miss the end where there’s a surprise.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

We now have the building blocks of mental expansion or dynamic intelligence in place. (Hang in there. This is not the element we focused on primarily.)

We can now rope in services of specialists and reap the benefit from their expertise. Now is the time to set up a customized plan. And now we’re cruising along the highway of learning at 80 kmph, rather than getting stuck at every road block.

Let’s dive into the major points of this video together. I have also suggested activities that you can practice at home to develop foundations that are essential for building mental expansion. Remember these activities are based on emotional sharing, meaningfulness and authenticity. These are activities which our parents work on regularly to achieve the level of contentment and happiness that they are at.

1. Shraddha is motivated

She doesn’t need much pushing and prodding to stay on task, does she?

She is engaged and happy to participate. Her competence is feeding into intrinsic motivation. External reinforcement is not needed here. Isn’t hat amazing?

How you can work on motivation and competence? Here is an activity.

Build a tower by taking turns. There is no right or wrong. Do not focus on product.

Take your turn, wait and see what your child does. Add pauses, add anticipation, keep it nice and slow. It’s not about imitation. It’s about the fun associated with it. It’s about what your child comes up with.

Use facial expressions and gestures. Check: is your child connecting with you?

Related:Redefining Autism: Gaining Mastery Motivation

Try not to prompt – use the 45 second rule. If the tower crashes, laugh about it together.

Vary the blocks, based on the needs of your child – Wooden blocks for little hands and lego blocks for older children.

courtesy: Deviant Artcourtesy: Deviant Art

2. Shraddha understands her role

By the way, it’s not just about the skill. Did you note how beautifully the framework flowed?

This is not mere imitation. See 1:50 – she makes the flower differently from the way Uma makes it.

She is comfortable doing this. More importantly, so is the mother.

How you can work on understanding roles. Here is an activity for it.

Make a collage. Create a flow. Gather different materials, such as craft paper, fancy paper, sequins and stones. Have clear roles for both of you. For example, hold the paper while your child cuts it. You can apply the Fevicol while your child sticks it.

Focus on process – there is no right or wrong here. This will empower your child to go with the flow.

Voice what you are doing, use experience-sharing language. Cut out the instructions. Celebrate what you have made together. Enjoy the process.

courtesy Flickrcourtesy Flickr


3. Shraddha knows how to wait

She is self regulated. Are you seeing any ‘stimmy’ behavior? Yes, there is occasional humming and singing. But she is calm and is cruising along confidently, engaged in the activity.

Don’t you just love the way she flicks her hair back? That’s my favorite!

Here is a fun activity to work on self-regulation together – Jump on beanbags.

Build this up as a fun game. Hold hands, count to three and start running towards the beanbags together. Stay connected. Keep track of each other.

If you stop in the middle, what happens? Does your child realize and stop too?
Wait for him to come back to you. Use head nods and head shakes.

Enjoy the experience. The key is to build in the anticipation.

For older children, you can substitute this with any kind of race that you could start together.

Try this with your child, not your cat :) sourceTry this with your child, not your cat :)source

4. Shraddha shifts attention naturally

Note how she focuses on her work and then looks back to check with her mother. Mark the meaningful eye gaze between them at 2:13 and 3:12.

If she doesn’t know how to do something, she observes her mother. Then she tries it on her own. She’s now learning naturally as the foundations of dynamic eye gaze are in place.

How you can work on Shifting Attention and Joint Attention. Try the activity of looking at pictures and books together.

Sit alongside each other and look at interesting pictures or a book that your child enjoys. Use minimal language, focus on facial expressions. Does your child shift attention to look at you or to check on you?

For children who like to listen to stories, you could read a story from a book. Pause at an important point, will the child shift attention from the book to you.

Slow down and enjoy the togetherness.

Teaching children with Autism to readSource: Lifehack

5. There is joy and laughter in the interaction

There is humming too! There are shared emotions. Note the shared laughter at 3:28.

How you can work on Emotional Sharing. Try the activity of smelling fragrances and spices.

Have a little bowl that is covered with foil paper. Add a variety of spices / fragrances into it without your child’s knowledge. Things like cotton balls dipped in vanilla essence, peppermint oil, perfume work well.

You could use garlic and other strong smelling spices too.

This works out beautifully as a family game! Most families have loved it.

Related: Messiness Equals Healthy Infant Development

Pass the bowl around, let every family member smell it. Remember they can’t open it to see what’s inside. Their facial expressions have to show whether they like the smell or not.

Remember, it’s not about naming the fragrance / spice. But it’s about sharing emotions and facial expressions.

Now, let me back up and announce the most crucial thing.

The thing that we work on right away is Parent Training.

This is how the process entails:

1. The family consultant evaluates and assesses the relationship.

2. Bite size assignments are given to the parents, to become effective guides.

3. An emotional reciprocity emerges between mother and daughter.

4. The parent takes her / his role as the empowered guide in the child’s life.

Step by step, week by week, we chip away. Over a period of time, the progress becomes apparent.

This is not a one off case, dear friend. Several families that we have worked with have reported these results.

Would you like to try this at home? Did you nod? That makes me happy :)

All you have to do is follow three steps:

1. Make a firm resolve that you will bring about a change in your child’s life. (This is the most difficult step)

2. Spend ten minutes a day (yes, just 10) working on the activities or similar activities as explained above.

3. Get in touch with me to share your results.

If you are stuck, I will be happy to help. If you’ve experienced joy doing this, I will celebrate with you.

I’d also like to paint the bigger picture scenario for you. Here’s what you should expect to see:

1. An emotional bond and understanding between you and your child.

2. You will not need to repeat your instructions.

3. Your child will take your perspective and listen to you when you say something.

4. Your life will become smoother and substantially happier.

It’s time to take the first step. You are the captain of your ship.

From where I stand, I can see a bright light shining for you and your family.

May our lives and those of our families be lit up, just like the beautiful lights that Shraddha and Uma created for us in the video.

Kamini Lakhani is a, RDI program consultant and the Director of SAI School (ABA Center) and SAI Connections (RDI Center). She has over 19 years of experience working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders and currently serves as the director of our RDI Professional Training Center in Mumbai. She is the Director of SAI School (ABA Center) and SAI Connections (RDI Center) 


  1. Sarah Wayland

    This is absolutely beautiful, Kamini. And you’ve done a wonderful job describing both the process and showing us an incredible outcome. Thank you!

  2. Monica

    So what’s the CRUCIAL element? Sorry, I did not hold on till the end of the post because I am a flustered mother of an autistic boy.

    These repulsive marketing techniques…is autism your cash cow, to grow your publicity. Oh how I loathe these people who claim to have the SECRET and giving people false hope. Shame on you.

  3. Elizabeth Alford

    Monica, thanks for stopping by. I know there are so many ideas and techniques out there that give false hope in their treatment. But, respectfully, this isn’t one of them.

    The above story is written by a mom of an autistic young man. She knows the pain, the struggle and has no reason to give anyone lies. She has also found hope….lots of it and wants to share it with a world of parents who have none.

    The autism research over the last 10 year has taught us a great deal about what is happening in these brains. Regrettably, most clinical environment have ignored it an still push for skills and behavior control. You deserver better….your child deserves better.

    RDI is the only treatment models that goes to the real root of the problem and doesn’t just gloss over symptoms.

    You are right….it is a shameful thing to spread false hope. But it is equally shameful not to share what we know to be true and help people see that their quality of life can, indeed, improve.

    If you would like to chat more with me about this, please feel free to contact me at

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This