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The Power of Starting: Effective Task Initiation Techniques

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

Task initiation is a critical executive functioning skill that involves independently starting a task without support from others. Children with ASD and attention-related diagnoses often struggle with this skill, which includes generating ideas, solving problems, and following instructions. Teenagers and young adults with task initiation issues may require frequent reminders to begin tasks, procrastinate until the last minute, ask for assistance with easy tasks, or exhibit challenging behavior to avoid tasks.

If you or someone you know can relate to the struggles of getting started on tasks, then keep reading to learn effective strategies for improving task initiation skills.

Never underestimate the power of a good “if/then” statement. For many individuals that struggle with task initiation, getting started is less about the skill and more about motivation. By clearly outlining if the desired behavior occurs, then what positive consequence will come of it, many learners can more easily move past the barriers to task initiation.

Behavior contracts

By creating behavior contracts, learners can easily overcome barriers to task initiation. These contracts are agreements between two parties that describe what happens when a behavior is completed, steps to succeed, and a timeline to meet a goal. To help your teen, start by setting up contracts together and outline the required tasks and outcomes. Once a pattern is established, your child can create and honor contracts with themselves to work on self-monitoring and understand their behaviors better.

Here is a great Template from that you can easily use with your children.

Teen Behavior Contract Templates_VerySpecialTales
Download PDF • 3.40MB

In the quest to find effective strategies for promoting task initiation, one technique stands out as both simple and highly effective: countdowns and timers. Research suggests that individuals with ASD, ADHD, and other learning differences can benefit greatly from the use of timers. In fact, studies have shown that visual timers in particular, such as the one provided in this link, are especially helpful. This is likely because people with ASD often require a higher degree of predictability, yet struggle with predicting what will come next.

When it comes to tasks that require transitioning away from preferred activities, timers can be a game-changer. So why not give it a try and see how it works for you or your learner?

Eye-Catching Cues

In the world of teaching strategies for individuals with unique needs, visual schedules and supports are among the most effective methods. For those struggling with task initiation, incorporating visuals can make all the difference. There are several ways to use visuals to help your teen or young adult better understand what's ahead and move more efficiently from one task to another.

Try creating a to-do/priority lists for homework or chores, using a visual timer to help gauge when the next task needs to start, or showing a photo or example of the finished product.

Creating a daily schedule with photos or symbols representing each activity, using a visual signal to cue what task should be started next, or graphing progress on the number of tasks completed or minutes it takes to get started are also useful methods. With these visual supports, task initiation can become less overwhelming and more manageable.

Motivational Boosts

Sometimes a boost of motivation in the form of a pep talk can be all we need to tackle a challenging task or project. Celebrity pep talks have become viral social media sensations, but imagine your teen or young adult giving themselves a pep talk whenever they need it the most.

In this activity, you can work with your child to create an uplifting note or record a pep talk on their smartphone that they can use whenever they find it difficult to start a task. Discuss with them what kind of encouragement is helpful during times when they struggle with task initiation. By having a motivating video or message ready to go, they can more easily get the push they need to start their next task.

Productivity Primer

Have you ever noticed how professional athletes have a warm-up routine before a big game? It helps them get in the zone and mentally prepare for the task ahead. Well, you or your child can do the same thing! Introducing a warm-up routine before tackling homework or starting the day can be a game-changer for task initiation.

Think of it like a pre-game ritual or a special routine to kick-start the day. It could be as simple as listening to a favorite song, doing a few stretches, or watching an inspiring video. The key is to make it consistent, so it becomes a cue for the brain that it's time to get to work. So, help your learner develop their own warm-up routine and watch them ace getting started on tasks like a pro!

Remember, getting started is often the hardest part. But with the right support, tools, and mindset, you and/or your learner can overcome the challenges of task initiation and achieve success.

Don't be afraid to try different strategies and approaches to find what works best for you. And most importantly, celebrate every small step forward and use it as motivation to keep moving forward. With persistence and a little help, you can accomplish great things. So go ahead, take that first step towards your goals - you've got this!

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