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  • Writer's picturePrudence Low


Updated: Jul 12, 2022

Parenting a child with autism spectrum disorder is likely to bring on a whole new different adventure altogether. For many parents, it would mean that conventional ways of learning need to be tweaked to effectively deal with the unique challenges that a child with autism may face. However, that doesn’t mean that we compromise on the principles of Guided Participation. Barbara Rogoff, a clinical psychologist coined the term “Guided Participation” in child psychology, observing that a child learns best from an adult guide, who would carefully organize and mete out their goals (In this case – the tasks) in achievable steps. For example, to help a child to achieve competency in tying his shoelace, one would have to guide the child to put on their shoes on the correct foot. The act of tying shoelaces or putting on one’s own shirt can be further broken down into smaller steps so that eventually the child learns to do the task on his own.

Barriers to Guided Participation in Modern Days

Modern-day living can hinder opportunities for Guided Participation. It could mean that our hurried lifestyles leave us with little patience to go through the entire process of a specific task that our daily living requires. In an ordinary situation, one wouldn't even have to think about daily tasks such as brushing our teeth or putting on our clothes. We’ve also simplified our lives in some ways – i.e., buying shoes with Velcro fasteners or slip-on like Crocs, and with this, in the interest of saving time, our helpers or we as parents intervene too soon to resolve a situation. The next time when that happens, understand that the child with processing difficulty may be deprived of hundreds of those small steps of accomplishment that would cumulatively have helped him/her encounter success. The child’s episodic memory bank could have been filled with successful memories of having done up his shoes, worn his clothes on his own, finished with the whole process of toileting to have the pleasure of seeing delighted faces. Those tiny, seemingly insignificant moments are important in building the child’s sense of competency, his sense of self and, of course, resilience.

Slowing Down to Speed Up

It sounds paradoxical. When you recognise that autism affects processing, it makes sense that we slow down our actions and reduce speech for the child to process things around them. Slowing down also means that our activities are reduced and that we pay more attention to the quality of the specific activity to ensure the Guide and the Child remain connected. It also means that we intentionally reduce our speech and ask fewer questions, instead, we could selectively and economically Think Aloud – to share our thoughts. Many other times, we would want to put more weightage on emotional communication of facial expressions and non-verbal. This is one of the keys to getting the child to be attuned to our emotions. With autism, we celebrate seemingly small but significant moments of emotional connectedness. The point at which the child looks at you and gets it. Truly gets it! And you know it!

Build the pathways for connectedness and the learning will follow

When you have a child on the spectrum, you will discover you’d have to go with a timeline that is non-conventional and entirely unique to you and your child. This would sometimes mean that you’d need to toss out man-made rules such as when to send your child to school, when to take national exams, when to perform the national duty, etc. Start by prioritizing the building of neural pathways that connect you to your child. The learning will follow – in its own way and on the child’s own unique timeline.

The figure below is extracted from the article Guided Participation Theory for teaching and learning in clinical practice (

It shows guided participation issues, processes, and competencies and their relationships with one another.

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