Expanding interests

Does your child have limited interests? Many of my clients do; they like specific toys and activities but not really a wide variety of things.

Limited interests can make it tricky to maintain motivation to teach a child a wide variety of language and play skills but it also limits their social opportunities if they only enjoy playing with specific toys.

Imagine a child who fixates on playing with cars at nursery; a peer may approach them and join in this play for a little while but soon move onto something else, whereas many of my clients would spend their entire time playing with the cars.

You can see how this would impact on their social and play skills over time.

We also want to work on this because ultimately we want to expand the child’s interests and therefore repertoire of potential reinforcers (which we can use for future teaching) and NET activities.

Additionally, the more time your child spends engaged in appropriate activities;

  1. The less time there is for problem or self-stimulatory behaviour to occur.
  2. The more they will have in common with peers
  3. The more opportunities there are for teaching functional communication and other important skills.

So, sounds great right?? But how do we actually work on teaching kids to enjoy different toys/ activities?

In a nutshell you need to work on ‘pairing’ neutral activities with reinforcing ones.  For example, if I need to do some work on my laptop the first things I’ll do is make a cup of tea, it just sort of ‘takes the edge off’ and helps motivate me to get to work.

The science behind this is; reinforcing properties of the preferred activity / item tend to rub off on the neutral one making that item/activity reinforcing over time (i.e. a conditioned reinforcer such as money).

This is highly unlikely to happen overnight and in my experience it requires some element of ‘forced exposure’ – short and sweet bursts and always ending the pairing session on a positive note, hopefully leaving the child wanting more.

Signs that pairing has been successful:

  • Is your child spontaneously approaching the toy?
  • Is your child interacting in any way with the toy?

Fading the use of primary reinforcer (the item that they really like!)

  • When your child begins to approach the toy and attempts to interact with it you need to begin to fade the use of the primary reinforcer both in terms of frequency and/or magnitude

If you are in my Parenting with science Facebook group there’s a unit in there all about how to expand your child’s interests so check it out; it’s unit 9.

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