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Pure Friendship for Individuals with Special Needs
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Taking Turns: how to make it easier for your child with special needs

Taking turns is one of the most critical social skills needed in day-to-day life. Turn taking is necessary when it comes to developing friendships, communicating with others and playing games. Turn taking is not an innate skill. It needs to be taught, not in a classroom setting but in real life situations. Here are 9 ideas that will help teach turn taking to your child. Have more ideas? Please share!

1. Start with a social story

You can begin to teach turn taking with a social story.  There are many examples available online. For social story ideas on turn taking you can visit the Boardmaker share website.

2. Model Turn Taking

Modeling can be very helpful to teaching your child how to take turns. Enlist the help of a sibling or another child and act out appropriate behavior.  Show your child how you are taking turns playing a game, talking to another, using the computer etc.

3. Usable Language

Make the language of turn taking familiar and usable for your child. Routinely use simple language to describe turn taking: My turn, your turn. You may need to pair the verbal reminder along with a gentle physical reminder .  If they try to skip your turn Place your hand on top of theirs and say “my turn.” When it is your child's turn it is their turn to put their hand on top of yours.  If your child is not familiar with the terms “my” or “your” then start with actual names: Mommy’s turn or Timmy’s turn.

4. Use a Timer

Take some of the arguing out of turn taking by using a timer.  There is no one to accuse of being not fair if everyone gets the same amount of time.  At our house, our children regularly fight over who gets to choose an activity.  I often set the microwave timer for a set amount of time.  When the timer goes off it is the next child's turn to choose an activity.  For longer time periods, remember to give count down warnings ahead of time.

5. Use A Talking Stick

Turn taking occurs naturally in conversation.  If your child prefers to dominate the conversation and is unaware of his/her listener’s response  try using the talking stick. It has been used for centuries by many  Native American Indian tribes as a means of just and impartial hearing. The talking stick was commonly used in council circles to designate who had the right to speak.   A person can only speak while holding the stick; the others  must remain silent.

6. Cooperative story telling.

Find opportunities in your day-to-day life to teach turn taking. Try Cooperative Storytelling. This is a great game to play around the table when you are waiting for a meal at a restaurant as it needs no supplies, takes up no space and can run as long as you need it to. The rules are very simple – the first person starts a story.  I suggest limiting their story to one sentence.  Then the next person says a sentence that must follow in order to make a story.  No one can offer his/her suggestions for how the story goes and ideally no one should get mad if the story takes a different direction than the original story teller imagined.  This can be modified to having each person say several sentences or even trickier is each person can only say one word.

7. Board Games

Board Games are fun ways to work on turn taking. Ker Plunk by Mattel and Don't Break the Ice by Hasbro – are great beginning board games (although neither actually use a board).  These games do not involve a lot of explanation of the rules so little communication skills are needed. Jenga– builds on the natural interest of many children to play with blocks.  You could also try using regular blocks and taking turns placing one on top of the other to see how tall you can build a tower.  This also assists in working cooperatively.

8. Video Games

My son and his friends prefer video games to board games.  (I know that is not shocking to so many of you.)  There are many opportunities for turn taking even when children are staring at a screen. My children fight over who gets to play first. We started a system that on odd days my son gets to be play first and on even days my daughter gets to.  Now my son will learn that he has to wait until it is his day to be first player.

9. While your child waits for their turn:

It may be beneficial for your child to have a security object or an object to “stim” with if they get agitated waiting for their turn.  If they can keep their hands busy or their focus off the time they need to wait until it is there turn then that will help to alleviate some of that tension.

WRITTEN ON December 27, 2013 BY:


Emma is a 37-year-old mother of two. One of the two, son Ian, is autistic. She is also currently earning her master's in special education with an autism endorsement.