Program: Task Completion

I loooove teaching Task Completion, it’s such a great skill to give to individuals with Autism.
Task Completion is a program that teaches a child to complete tasks independently for a specified amount of time. Beyond that, Task Completion teaches these kiddos appropriate leisure skills. When left to their own devices many children with Autism will spend their down time inappropriately. They may stim, have repetitive play, or engage in disruptive behaviors such as climbing onto cabinets or furniture. Once taught to mastery, Task Completion is a great tool that can be used by parents for when they need their child independently engaged in an appropriate activity. Such as when Dad is on the phone, when Mom needs to do the laundry, when big brother has friends over and doesn’t want his baby brother interrupting, during transition times, during down times, in the classroom, etc. This program also teaches children to follow a timed schedule, follow directions, complete tasks in serial order, attending skills, appropriate waiting, etc.

 I will recommend Task Completion as a program for children who:

 -Already have some toy play skills, but very few leisure skills
-Have difficulty with transitions or unstructured times in the home or classroom
-Need someone to engage with them in order for them to attend to a toy or object
-Have many attention seeking behaviors/Seek attention in inappropriate ways

Task Completion does have a few prerequisites. The child needs to be able to wait, must already have some toy play skills, must understand delayed reinforcement, must have a good number of mastered skills, and the parents need to be on board with this program. The way I write this program, in order for the child to master the skill (and for the program to be closed) each parent must be able to run Task Completion by themselves. So this particular program requires significant parental involvement.

Here is how a visual of what Task Completion looks like:

The therapist places tasks into a set of clear shelves, and sets a timer for a specific amount of time. Next the therapist gives the SD and starts the timer. The child should pull out the 1st drawer, take it to the table and sit down, empty the drawer, complete the task, put the task back in the drawer, and return the drawer to the shelves. At that point the child either continues moving through drawers, or goes and sits back down until the timer goes off. Task Completion is not finished until the timer goes off. 

*Task Completion Tips:

  •  Materials Needed: Clear plastic shelves, a variety of mastered tasks, a variety of reinforcers, a timer, a desk or table where the child completes the task.I usually get these clear shelves from Wal-Mart, they're around $8.You can buy them with or without wheels, it doesnt matter.

  • The tasks placed in the drawer need to be mastered tasks that the child can complete independently. Pick tasks that have a clear start and stop, and don’t need instructions. A lump of Play Dough would be a poor choice, because it isn’t explicitly clear what to do with it. A string and beads are a better choice, because its clear the child is supposed to place the beads on the string.

  • When first teaching this program, you can reinforce the child after they are completely finished or you can reinforce at the end and the beginning. What that usually looks like is I will place a small edible reinforcer on top of the drawers, and the child can grab the reinforcer before they pull out the 1st drawer. This also works well for children who delay beginning Task Completion, and you have to physically guide them to start working.
  • After you have been teaching the program for a while and have a few drawers, you can place reinforcers directly in the drawers. The 1st drawer could be a task, 2nd drawer is a reinforcer, and 3rd drawer is a task. This builds reinforcement into the program. You could even place a child's favorite stim object or a sensory box in a drawer, and use that as a reinforcer.

  • After you give the SD and start the timer, do not say anything to the child until the program is completely finished. The child may cry, tantrum, flop to the ground, ask you questions, etc. Do not respond verbally. Use nonverbal prompting as necessary. The reason for this is so the child learns they are expected to do the program independently.
  • As the child begins to learn the program, the therapist should fade further and further into the background. On drawer 1, you may need to be right by the child to ensure compliance. By drawer 3, you should be standing across the room and by drawer 5 or 6 you should be able to move freely in and out of the room as the child stays engaged with the Task Completion program.
  • There are SO many creative ways my kiddos have of being defiant during Task Completion. Sometimes the child will move very slowly to try and “ride out the clock”. Other times, as soon I give the SD the child drops to the floor and refuses to move. Some children are perfectionists, and get upset if the timer goes off before they have finished their task. They may scream and then throw the drawer across the room. Be aware in advance that you may see all kinds of new behaviors pop-up during Task Completion. What is most important is that you do not speak, prompt full compliance, and take a look at your reinforcement to make sure it is strong enough.

Once taught to mastery, Task Completion can consist of anywhere from 1 drawer to 12 drawers…or even more.  It just depends on the setting. Most homes end up using 8-12 drawers, which is about 15-25 minutes of time where the child is independently engaged in a leisure activity. That’s a lot of extra time in the day for busy and stressed parents to get things done, knowing that their child is engaged in something appropriate.


  1. Just found your site by googling "task completion toys." My son is 3 and ASD, and we are doing home ABA therapy with a wonderful team. He's starting to get way too fast at our current task completions (beads on a string, building towers, pop beads) so I thought I'd look for some new ideas - and I LOVE the drawers idea!! I'm e-mailing this post to my consultant right now, and can't wait to backtrack through your old posts :)

  2. Thank you! I'm so glad it was helpful


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