Taking turns

The skill of turn taking is used frequently throughout the school day, for example:

  • Taking turns to talk in Circle Time
  • Taking turns to speak during class discussions
  • Taking turns in answering questions
  • Taking turns to speak in informal social interactions
  • Taking turns in games in the playground
  • Taking turns in class responsibilities e.g. taking the register to the office, handing out books, being the door person

Reasons why taking turns may be difficult for students with autism

  • Difficulties with ‘Theory of mind’: ‘Theory of mind’ refers to the student’s ability to understand that others have thoughts, intentions and feelings that are different to theirs. Some students with autism find it difficult to see the world from another person’s perspective and so they may not understand that their peers want a turn to talk or to play a game.
  • Interests: A student with autism may be driven by a specialist interest or preferred item that it is difficult for him/her to give a turn to a classmate. Some students with autism may feel that they are the best in an activity or the most knowledgeable on a subject and so do not understand the point in giving others a turn.
  • Understanding the rules: The turn taking rules of an activity may have been explained verbally and as many students with autism have difficulties in receptive understanding, they may not have processed the rules. Many students benefit from the use of visual supports and Social Stories to provide social understanding of rule. See social stories section.
  • Lack of experience: Some students with autism may prefer to play alone and so developmentally, they have not experienced turn taking, and have therefore not learnt this skill naturally.

Teaching the skill of turn taking

  • Initially teach turn taking in an activity which the student enjoys but is not their most preferred activity. The student will therefore find it easier to give others a turn. Ensure to choose an activity which naturally promotes the participants taking turns.
  • Initially teach turn-taking in a one to one setting, the supporting adult and the student with autism before increasing the group size. When the skill is learnt, transfer it to the student’s favourite activities. See video.
  • Turn taking object: Use a concrete object which the student holds when it is his/her turn in an activity such as a board game or when it is his/her turn to speak in an activity.
  • Visual supports: Use a visual support strategy to show the students when it is their turn, how many turns are left and whose turn it is next. This may consist of photographs or symbols. See our turn taking resources.
  • Visual timers: Use a visual timer to show the student that their time is coming to an end and their turn is over. See visual timers.
  • Turn taking for class duties: Use a calendar or schedule to show the student when it will be his/her turn to carry out a delegated responsibility again e.g. show the student the dates when it will be his/her turn to take the register to the office.
  • Social stories: These can be useful visual supports in clarifying why it is good to give others a turn. See social stories.
  • Attention Autism: Attention Autism Stage 3 includes turn taking activities. See ‘Attention Autism’ section.


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