How to Teach Break Cards to Autistic Children

Sometimes an autistic child needs a small break from an activity.

Autistic children often struggle with communication and social interaction, which can lead to frustration and outbursts of inappropriate behavior. Providing autistic children with a way to express their need for a break during an activity can help calm them when they're feeling overwhelmed or confused. Break cards, which are a part of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), are used by autistic children to initiate communication. Break cards have the word "break" on them, and they're particularly effective with non-verbal children.

Sit down with the child who's going to learn about the PECS break card. Place the break card under a clear container so that the child can see it but not touch it.

Wait for a response from the child. When the child shows an interest in the card, allow him to pick it up. Guide his hand with the card toward you. You're trying to teach him to hand you the card.

Take the card from the child and ask: "You need a break?" Then, lead the child to an area where he can play or enjoy some down time.

Practice the card exchange. The next time the child needs a break, give him the card, and guide him into handing you the card back.

Again, take the card from the child and ask: "You need a break?" Lead the child into the designated area where he can have some down time.

Continue offering the child the break card each time you sense that he's overwhelmed or frustrated. Be consistent with your response when he hands you the card.

As the child becomes accustomed to using the break card, encourage him to hand it to you when he needs a break.

Ask the child what he needs, and respond consistently when he hands the break card to you.

  • Always acknowledge the child's attempt to communicate with you.
  • Allow the child to keep break cards in his desk or backpack for easy access.

Melissa Gagnon began writing professionally in 2010. Her expertise in education, research and literature allows her to write knowledgeably for various websites. Gagnon graduated from Gordon College with a Bachelor of Science in English and education. She then attended Salem State College and completed a master's degree in teaching English as a second language.