Supporting children with decision making

Help children with complex disabilities make informed choices with simple methods. Learn to present clear options, give ample time and guide them with gentle suggestions.

Children with complex disabilities have the ability, and the right, to make their own decisions. But they may need help, such as information presented in a few different ways, more time to consider choices, and guidance from family, friends or educators.

For some children, multiple options are overwhelming and can cause confusion or emotional distress or make reaching a decision harder.

Simple ways you can help a child with a disability make decisions

  • Present two or three clear and simple options
  • Give children a sticker to place next to their preferred activity option on your routine chart for the day
  • Ask a child to lead an educator to their preferred area or resource
  • Give the child plenty of time to make a decision. Some children may need more time to understand and process the options presented
  • If the child is struggling to decide, gently suggest an option they will enjoy (such as an activity they have enjoyed in the past)
  • Provide opportunities for the child to try other options in rotation
  • Be flexible if the child changes their mind, wants to join a new activity, takes a break or moves to unstructured play

Case study: Supporting Shiloh to make decisions

Shiloh has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and communicates using Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) tablets and communication boards.

She can become confused and overwhelmed when she finds things too complicated at OSHC. Shiloh benefits from situations where she is presented with just a few clear options simply explained, so she feels confident about making a decision without becoming overwhelmed.

The OSHC service gives Shiloh her own personal schedule at the start of every program, which outlines the activities planned for the entire OSHC in a simple way, using pictures. Shiloh can see all the activities in advance, which gives her lots of time to think about the options and choose what she wants to do. Shiloh places stickers next to the activities she wants to do, to show the staff what she wants to participate in.