Simple behavioral techniques consistently applied help children learn.

Behavioral Techniques for Developmentally Delayed Children

by Anita Holmes

More than one-tenth of children exhibit some sort of developmental delay. A child may be slow in learning to climb stairs, independently toileting, catching onto reading or picking up on social queues. As a preschooler, Albert Einstein dealt with delayed speech. And, like Einstein, most children with one or more developmental delays will ultimately close the gap between their abilities and those of their typical peers. There are certain behavioral techniques parents can apply to help a child cooperatively participate in activities focused on areas of concern.


The most effective behavioral techniques for developmentally delayed children begin with a list of reward items your child finds especially enticing. He may like swinging, chocolate-chip cookies or listening to a certain music group. Compile a list of free or inexpensive items that your youngster particularly enjoys. Each of these items can serve as a reward or motivator as you work with your child on any objective related to a life-skill area of concern. For instance, if you want your child to independently wash her hands and she loves playing computer games, match the task of hand-washing with the reward of extra computer time.

Chunking Tasks

For developmentally delayed children, life can be frustrating. Even young children can quickly become discouraged and display avoidance behaviors for whatever life facet gives them grief. Part of an effective behavioral technique that encourages children to tackle projects not to their liking is to chunk the task down into easy-to-accomplish segments. For instance, for hand-washing, instruct your daughter to turn on the water, then turn it off. Have her do this five times. Then, allow her a short time on a reward item for a job well-done. Now, model for her turning the water on, squirting soap on her hands and rubbing them together. Have her follow through on these short, simple steps a few times. Again, allow her reward time. Finally, demonstrate for her turning on the water, soaping and rinsing the hands, turning off the water and towel-drying them. As she successfully follows through on the multiple steps, again reward her with a predetermined item from her reward list.


When working with developmentally delayed children, there are two very important means of behavioral technique communication that set them up for a successful learning experience. First, after giving your child a directive -- such as turn the water faucet on and off -- have him repeat back to you what he is to do. You may need to give the instruction more than once; continue to request that he repeat back to you the direction given until he gets it right. Consistently employ this checking technique to be sure that your child understands what he is to do up front. Then, catch him doing it correctly! Quick and frequent verbal encouragement provides oral guidance that both reassures your child that he's on the right track and motivates him to repeat it.

Touching Bases

At the end of any activity with your developmentally delayed child, take a moment to review with her what just took place. Questions should be short, to the point and centered on the nature of the task: "What did you just do?" She may answer "I washed my hands all by myself." This is your opportunity to reassure yourself that she understood the skill she was working on and to join with her in a high-five for a job well-done. Re-employ these same behavioral techniques to motivate your child to expend effort on any life skill she may need extra work on.

About the Author

A retired teacher, Anita Holmes is an experienced seamstress, wood worker and home decor specialist. She's designed and constructed new homes, gardens, remodeled multiple homes, built furniture, decks and cabinets and sewn everything from custom drapes to intricate quilts. Holmes holds a Master of Public Administration degree.

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