Pediatric Therapy Partners

Why incorporating child interests is essential to therapy

Dad following the lead of his toddler son

Put simply – interest leads to engagement, and engagement promotes learning!

At Pediatric Therapy Partners, we believe that therapy starts with child interests and engagement. 

Think about the last time you were forced to do something utterly boring or tedious. Maybe a sewing project or work on your home that just has SO MANY hard steps! It’s overwhelming from the beginning, and you probably decide not to try the project, or maybe decide to give up halfway through. This is the opposite of being engaged!

You have likely noticed similar situations with your child. Like when you ask your child again and again to zip their coat when it is freezing outside. It likely takes A LOT of encouragement and support, especially when they know it is hard for them. 

They might continually struggle to fasten their zipper time and time again. And eventually, they have no interest in even trying to zip their coat, and surely do not want to work on this skill in occupational therapy either!

Now, imagine your child is engaged around a preferred interest and they are pretending to be a firefighter. They get ready to go “rescue” their stuffed animal friends. They RUSH to put on their firefighter vest, which of course they need to zip before rescuing their friends!

In this situation, the child is engaged in play. They are so focused on their story of play that they proceed to zip their jacket. 

They might still struggle with the task and need support, but their motivation to engage is greater because their interests are incorporated. Over time, practicing when engaged in play leads to skill development!

Incorporating your child’s interests in therapy doesn’t mean we never encourage your child to work on the hard things. But, it does mean your child’s interests are incorporated into these “hard things,” and we follow the lead of your child. 

Incorporating your child’s interests into therapy promotes engagement, builds relationships, and improves skills!

Why we believe this – Looking at the research:

  • Incorporating interests can lead to:
    • Greater developmental progress1 
    • Increased positive social engagement 2, 3, 4
    • Improved self-care skills4
    • Decreased challenging behaviors2

Additional resources – Learn more about:

Reference list:

  1. Dunst, C. J., Trivette, C. M., & Masiello, T. (2011). Exploratory investigation of the effects of interest-based learning on the development of young children with autism. Autism, 15(3), 295-305.
  2. Dunst, C. J., Trivette, C. M., & Hamby, D. W. (2012). Meta-analysis of studies incorporating interests of young children with autism spectrum disorders into early intervention practices. Autism Research and Treatment, 2012, 1-10.
  3. Sivaraman, M., & Fahmie, T. A. (2018). Using common interests to increase socialization between children with autism and their peers. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 51, 1-8.
  4. Harrop, C., Amsbary, J., Towner-Wright, S., Reichow, B., & Boyd, B. (2019). That’s what I like: The use of circumscribed interests within interventions for individuals with autism spectrum disorder. A systematic review. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 57, 63-86.