Making Choices

By Charlotte Cushman on Jan 26, 2013

Children should be given the opportunity to make choices throughout the day, within the natural context.  Making choices helps students to express their wishes, as well as to exercise some degree of control over their lives.  Choices should be meaningful and should include at least one option of something the child enjoys.  While some things are not choices (e.g. the end of a class period or going to a medical appointment), some element of choice can often be introduced. 

This activity is designed to give a student with complex needs practice expressing choices in a simple, controlled way.  The goals of this activity are for students:

  • To develop decision-making skills
  • To develop the ability to initiate activities during leisure time

Students should be given the chance to make choices in all areas of the daily routine. Mealtime and free time usually include an element of choice, but almost any activity can be structured in a way that offers some choice (e.g., which work task would you like to do first, which item of clothing would you like to put on next, etc.). Decision-making skills should be reinforced throughout the student's day.


  • A variety of preferred music, toys, objects, or other favorite materials Object symbols with braille
  • Real objects, symbols (pictures or tactile)


  • Begin with real objects (fruit, toys, etc.) and slowly work toward more symbolic representation (object symbols, picture symbols, etc.)
  • Present two choices clearly and name each one, allowing the child plenty of time to examine the alternatives.
  • Some students may not appear to express a clear choice and may always reach for the item on the right side or the last option given.  If this happens, try presenting him with a preferred toy, object, or edible treat, and a neutral or unappealing, but not aversive alternative (a toy he doesn't like or something silly like a rock or a shoe). Ask him what he would like: "Tom, would you like a cookie or a shoe?"
  • Reinforce student's choice by letting him eat the treat, play with the toy, etc.
  • Once student is able to make simple choices between two grossly different alternatives, make the selection more realistic (e.g., "Cathy, would you like the music box or the radio?")
  • At first, most students will choose the second alternative, no matter what it is. Therefore, be sure that you vary the way that you present the choices.
  • Be sure that the options are presented in a way that the child can understand what the choices are.  For example, if she is unable to see out of one eye and has limited hand use on that side, choices should be presented in her best visual field and perhaps above and below, rather than side by side.


  • Increase the number of alternatives presented as student becomes more capable of making choices. Eventually, ask an open-ended question (e.g., "Phillip, what would you like to do?") to which the student can give an informed response.
  • The ultimate goal is for students to initiate their own activities during leisure time without needing an adult to provide choices.