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Assessing Readiness in a Child and Why it Matters

The SUCCESS Approach In Action Blog

This blog post is based off “Connect with Success” Podcast - Episode 2, Launched on March 31, 2021 with Dr. Rich Smith and Dr. Lynette Scotese-Wojtila, which can be heard here: https://www.thesuccessapproach.org/autism-podcast




When it’s time for your child to do homework, or some other task, do you oftentimes repeat yourself and still, nothing happens? You ask again, but still get no results. Frustration sets in, and you wonder, “Why doesn’t she listen?”


You try to pinpoint a reason. Is it laziness, distraction, ineffective parenting?


Have you ever considered “readiness”?


Maybe your child, in that moment, was simply not “ready” to attend to the task at hand.


Readiness is important, and it is one of the first things occupational therapists look for when working with children, especially children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.


What is readiness?

“Readiness is as an observable state of the human condition wherein a child or an adult is actually displaying adequate preparedness to meet the demands of what's going on around them,” says Dr. Lynette Scotese-Wojtila. “Readiness is observable, which means we are actually going to see readiness in a child.”

Adults also must reckon with “readiness.” When we first wake up in the morning with frazzled hair and a foggy mind, are we “ready” - at that moment - to do our best work at any given task? Most of us are not. We have to “get ready” and so does your child.

For children with autism, achieving the state of readiness can be more complex. So how do we know when a child is “ready” for a task? First, a little patience is needed here. When helping a young child, just know that things do not happen when we want them to happen. It’s a process. It takes time. Slowing down in this way actually saves time, especially if a tantrum can be prevented.

The next time your child ignores your repeated requests to do a task, instead of reacting in frustration, stop and observe your child:

· Are they already engaged in an activity?

· What is their body doing? What direction are they facing? Are they even facing me?

· What are they looking at?

· What are they doing with their voice? Are they vocalizing? Talking?

· Are they actually verbalizing/speaking?

· Are they making groaning sounds with their voice?

What you're trying to discern by watching their eyes, assessing their body position and listening to their voice is “What are they experiencing?” Trained occupational therapists use a mental checklist like this to quickly assess, so they know if a child is ready. Start a New Habit: Look For Signs of Readiness Before Approaching Your Child

“If the child meets the criterion in the checklist, then you have the green light, as a parent or a teacher, to go ahead and approach the child and engage them in something you want them to do, or learn, or attend to,” Says Dr. Scotese-Wojtila.

“I think the hard part is that most parents and many professionals don't know how to assess. It is unfamiliar to them. They don't know that readiness is a precursor to focusing. And so they miss readiness, or they misinterpret readiness, and that is not helpful to the person with autism.”


“Readiness” is fluctuating and it’s different from skill.

Dr. Scotese-Wojtila uses this example in the podcast episode: Readiness is something we all have, it's a dynamic fluctuating state. So the most attentive and highly observant person sitting at the opera, deep into the performance, if they have a full bladder at that point, and there's no way they're going to make it until the end of the opera to relieve themselves, they're not going to be able to maintain a good state of readiness to complete the task of listening. They're going to have to take care of their body. So it's a fluctuating dynamic state. Now, once they relieve themselves, this is a very average every day happens-to-everyone-kind-of-scenario, they come back and they're ready again. It is that primitive, it's that common. It's that core to all of us, but for children with autism, the differences, what makes them unready, isn't always something obvious like a full bladder. It's how they're wired; it could be many, many things that we'll get into in future podcasts that rob these kids in having the readiness to attend. And I want to point out that readiness is very different from skill. Dr. Scotese-Wojtila uses the example of telling a seven year old with autism that she needs to get her shoes on and tie her laces and get into the car. In the example, Mom chooses to tell her that when she is watching one of her favorite shows. Most likely, at that moment, the child is not going to perform that skill. She can perform the skill, she can put her shoes on and tie the laces and walk to the car, but she is literally unready at that point.

Product versus process

We live in a product focused society, and so as parents, we are often focused on product instead of process. Parents might get very frustrated that the child is not tying her shoes. “I know you can do it. Come on, do it!” they might say with rising frustration.


Well, it's not a debate if she has the skill; she's not ready. Instead of coming down on the fact that she didn't do it, that she didn't produce the result of tying her shoes, we have to step back and determine where the child was at in the process. First, she has not even made sense of the words, “Put your shoes on,” because her mind is on the show.


This may be hard for a parent to stop and consider as they rush out the door to drive another child to school, or to get your toddler to a doctor's appointment.


Worse yet, what parents often do is just abruptly click the show off, which unleashes a whole other set of circumstances that will probably, depending on the child, cause further delay. Understanding your child's readiness starts by watching their eyes, listening to what they're saying, and watching their body. After we do this for a while, at least in occupational therapy and people skilled in The SUCCESS Approach way of doing things, we develop an awareness of what readiness looks like in our own children.


Give Your Child a Readiness Prompt Consider using a prompt, for example, a three minute warning. For example, if your child is engaged in a television show. This three minute warning might help when making transitions. “In three minutes we're going to turn off your show and get your shoes on.”

That simple statement and the three minute grace period could literally save you an hour. By prompting your child as to what will happen next, you are setting them up for a successful transition. You are letting them know what they need to do to be prepared for the next task.

Attention shifting is the precursor to readiness


You have to be able to shift attention, and a lot of our kids and adults with autism have some core problems with attention and attention shifting, or shifting or sustaining attention. So we really want to treat that, and understand that in occupational therapy and The Success Approach way of doing things.

Assisting Readiness: Bring the shoes into her line of vision


Using the same example, when the seven year old doesn't respond to “get your shoes on” because her eyes are on the TV, the parent can bring the shoes to her, into her line of vision, and let her know, “Soon it's time for shoes” or “In two minutes it’s time for shoes.” This increases the chances that her eyes are on the right thing that you want her to eventually make contact with, or make use of. What about scripting A lot of our young adults, and even older adults or children, script, so if they're in the middle of a script, which is sort of repeating something that's not in the present (for example, a script from a movie or a cartoon or a song or something). If they're using their voice to rehearse it to say it out loud, they're probably not attending to -- or focusing on you. And so, that's not an example of high readiness state. A quiet child, or a child who is not doing sounds and being more still with their voice, or quiet with their voice, is a child who is more ready to hear something coming into their ears. These are things to look for when assessing readiness. How are they using their eyes? Are they facing the subject or the materials or the family member or adult with their body? Are they having more of a quiet voice than not?


Use these clues to see if your child is ready to receive the message you are about to give.


Why readiness matters Why is it so important for those parents and teachers to understand that readiness is an observation?


Two reasons why readiness matters: One is the child is not able to process unless they are "ready" to receive. Most of the time we're engaging a child to help them process, learn or do something, and so it is critical that they must be able to process it so they can receive the information. The second reason is "saliency". We want to make children with autism more aware of exactly what they're supposed to pay attention to. We want to bring what is salient to their consciousness so they can free up all their energies to focus on that item. Many of them, by nature, attend to many different things that are not salient. So we want to present our information when they're ready so that what we're presenting is salient. It takes up their attention. It takes up what they are looking at it. It occupies what their ears are hearing. Then, the information will be better received by the child. What are some other practical tips that you can offer our listeners to help with observing readiness, if they see that the student that their child's not ready?


Seek the Help of a trained occupational therapist (OT). Ask your child’s teacher if your school district can do an assessment on your child. Ask your child’s principal for resources. Ask trusted parents and friends if they know a good OT.


Try to determine: Is Your Child a Sensory Seeker or Sensory Avoider? Some children need more sensory input to feel ready. These children are often very physical. They run around a lot. They climb on things. They may be constantly “on the go.” It helps to give these children the opportunity to run, jump on a trampoline, ride a bike or climb playground equipment in order to achieve the state of readiness.


Other children benefit from a quiet and calm environment. They feel drained by a noisy environment, too much activity, loud noises, or even certain clothes. Their sensory system can be quieted, or dampened, in order for them to achieve the state of readiness. Giving them earphones to quiet the noise, a blanket to cocooning in, or certain types of clothing all help them to achieve readiness.


An occupational therapist will give you tools specific to your child. These topics will be covered in depth in future podcast episodes.


This blog post is based off “Connect with Success” Podcast - Episode 2, Launched on March 31, 2021 with Dr. Rich Smith and Dr. Lynette Scotese-Wojtila. The blog post was written by Kristi Ward, Executive Director of AWEtism Productions.


For more information about assessing readiness in a child with autism, listen to the Connect with Success autism podcast, episode 2, here: https://www.thesuccessapproach.org/autism-podcast

For more information about The S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Approachsm www.thesuccessapproach.org.

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