How to be an Anchor for Your Child with Autism

Thanksgiving is coming up at the end of the month and one of the things parents I work with are most grateful for are new strategies that help their child engage more fully and develop essential skills. 


So I wanted to share this latest one with you…


I just completed a consultation with one of my private coaching clients, Deepa.  Her son Archith is a very intelligent boy who has a very challenging time engaging with others.  He often plays his repetitive, sensory -seeking activities and rarely engages in any of the activities his mother and team introduced to him.


Then we began implementing a new strategy I have developed called an “anchoring activity”.  Until recently, Deepa had been running a home based program that was very much based on following her child’s lead.  If he would rip up paper into small pieces, so would she and her team.  If he would flick sticks by his eyes- so would they. This strategy is typically known as mirroring or joining. When Archith would look at any one of them- they would pounce on the opportunity and invite him into a game or activity.


There is incredible value in approaching a child in this way.  It is a very powerful approach to demonstrate acceptance to your child and develop trust, which then also helps inspire a child to want to interact with you more.  However, what I have realized lately is that for some children something might be missing here. Some children are ‘overt learners’ – meaning they learn best when taught in a way that is very directive.  Other children are more ‘indirect learners’, meaning they do best by coming to an activity on their own when they are ready and available.  It is easiest for ‘indirect learners’ to participate when there is an activity already in motion that they can ‘slip into’.  I call this an “anchoring activity”: an activity that is an anchor for a child to come back to as s/he goes in and out of being exclusive and interactive. 


 This means doing an activity and not calling or directing your child to join the activity. The activity itself is the”indirect  invitation”.  Plus, this gives your child the essential opportunity to develop the skill of coming to an activity on his own which he will need to be successful with his peers on the playground.


We began to experiment with doing “anchoring activities” with Archith.   Deepa brought in beads, blocks and drawing boards.  She began to do her “anchoring activity” (versus following exactly what he was doing and pouncing on him when he was available) and he almost immediately joined in, participated, took turns and followed directions.


What can you learn from this?

1. Determine if your child is more of an ‘overt learner’ (responds well to direct invitations, challenges, celebrations etc.) or an’ indirect learner’ (responds best to coming to an activity on his own without any direct invitation or when no one seems to be watching).


2. If your child seems more of an ‘indirect learner’, experiment with doing an “anchoring activity”.  This is any activity that you can engage in and he can easily observe how it’s played without ANY overt invitation from you.  Simply play, allow him to observe HOW you play and notice what he does when the ‘spotlight’ is not on him.  Sometimes all a kid needs is for us to back off, engage in a fun activity and see what he does with it.


P.S. Some examples of ‘anchoring activities’ are: building with blocks, stringing beads, painting, drawing, play dough,  imaginary play with dolls/animals/figurines, puzzles, puppets or games like Bingo or Memory (just to name a few!)


About the Author: 

Tali Berman is an autism specialist, developmental play expert and author of “Play to Grow! Over 200 games to help your special child develop fundamental social skills” (with foreword by Jenny McCarthy). She is also the founder/leader of the Autism Empowerment Telesummit, gathering top autism experts on her elite panel, reaching thousands of families around the globe. You can learn more at:

- Enter Your Location -
- or -