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Prompting Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder Through Activities of Daily Living

Keywords: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), smart homes, prompting system, artificial intelligence (AI), assistive technology.

In collaboration with: The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids).

Overview of Research

Learning to complete activities of daily living (ADL), such as handwashing and tooth brushing can present a real challenge to children with ASD. These are skills that are vital to the child’s independence and well-being. Therefore, parents of children with ASD are often the strongest advocates for research aimed at finding effective strategies that assist children with ASD to learn ADL.

People with ASD have some common, specific symptoms that often result in difficulties with communication (verbal & non-verbal), learning, social interactions, and daily living skills. Restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours are common, which affects their ability to learn self-care skills. Children with ASD also often have sensorimotor, perception and cognitive impairments, resulting in difficulties when learning tasks. The intensive and rigid needs of children with ASD adds to the difficulty of teaching them new skills. However, it has been shown that specific and intensive interventions can help children with ASD to learn the skills which allow them to have independent lives [1].

Observational Study

Photo of child with ASD getting help to wash her handsFigure 1. Children with ASD often need help to complete activities of daily living (ADL), such as handwashing

Handwashing is a skill that is performed frequently throughout the day and is a fundamental daily life skill. However, there are no research studies to date that have examined the prompting techniques used by parents and caregivers when assisting their children with the handwashing task. There is also a lack of empirical research on the types of prompts that lead to successful completion of a handwashing step (e.g. “Turn on the water” vs. “Jill, use the taps to turn on the water”).

The objectives of the observational study are:

  1. to identify the types of prompting strategies and delivery modalities used to guide a child with autism through handwashing steps, and
  2. to compare the prompts used to the successfulness of the child completing the handwashing task steps.

Funding Sources

Research Team

Alex Mihailidis, Ph.D. P.Eng. (University of Toronto)

Dina Kalales, M.Sc.OT (University of Toronto)

Christelle Ribaille, M.Sc.OT (University of Toronto)

Victor Monroy, M.Sc. (University of Toronto)

Jennifer Boger, M.A.Sc. (University of Toronto)

Tom Chau, Ph.D. P.Eng. (Paediatric Rehabilitation, Bloorview Kids Rehab)

Helene Polatajko, Ph.D. (University of Toronto)

Wendy Roberts, Ph.D. (Autism Research Unit, SickKids)


  1. Carothers, D. E. and Taylor, R. L. (2004). How teachers and parents can work together to teach daily living skills to children with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities,19, pp. 102-104.