Problem solving

Problem solving can frequently be a difficult skill for children and young people with autism to acquire as it also involves flexible thinking.

The child or young person needs to recognise there is a problem, remain calm, consider alternatives and then select a solution.  It is therefore a complex process with which the young person may need support.

The ability to solve problems is an important life skill, which may further increase the child’s independence and give him or her greater confidence across a range of settings.

Tips for building the capacity to problem solve:

  1. When the child or young person has mastered a task, and is fully independent in the task, introduce some ‘problems’ for example, If the child or young person can:
    • Complete a jigsaw or similar construction type toy: remove some pieces to see if he or she will ask for help or search for the missing pieces.
    • Make a ham sandwich: Remove the ham from the fridge to see if he or she will use another filling or ask for help.
    • Use the telephone: Set up a scenario in which he or she telephones a number, which is engaged or at which there is no reply, to see if he or she hangs up and tries again later.
    • Use public transport, discuss what he or she would do if the bus or train was late or did not arrive.
  2. When creating problem scenarios, make sure you are near the child to reassure him or her if he or she becomes anxious or upset.
  3. You also need to be beside the child so you can teach him or her how to solve the problem. Ways to teach problem solving may include:
    • Teaching the child how to ask for help, either verbally or using a visual card to request help.
    • Presenting a range of solutions visually, so the child can consider alternatives and select a solution.
    • Write a problem scenario for the child and encourage him or her to think of solutions. Allow him or her time to consider the problem and write out solutions.  He or she is more likely to come up with solutions when calm, and then can transfer these solutions if the problem arises in ‘real life’.

This is a higher-level strategy suitable for older children and those with the cognitive ability.

Problem Solving Scenario

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