Program: Task Completion

I loooove teaching Task Completion, it’s such a great skill to teach that can benefit a child across multiple settings.

Task Completion is a program that teaches a child to complete tasks independently for a specified amount of time. Beyond that, Task Completion teaches appropriate leisure skills. A lack of "down time" activities to engage with, or the ability to select and attend to a free play activity can be an issue for children with ASD. Instead of finding something to do that the caregivers or parents would deem appropriate, many children may engage in problem behavior or repetitive behaviors.
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 would recommend Task Completion as a program for children who:

 -Already have some toy play skills, but very few functional 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
-Spend their down time in destructive ways, such as jumping off furniture, eating non-food items off the floor, or breaking things

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 doesn't 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 play 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. Use nonverbal prompting as necessary. The reason for this is so the child learns they are expected to do the program independently (without you participating).
  • 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.
  • Teaching Task Completion can be ripe with problem behavior. 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. Have a plan for addressing issues such as these that may pop up. Also, always take a look at your reinforcement to make sure it is valuable 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 only need children to stay independently engaged with a leisure activity for 15-20 minutes at a time, across the day, so that mom and dad can do laundry, cook dinner, help other children with their homework, etc. 


  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. Thanks! How do you train them to wait for the timer to go off do you just wait until it goes off to give them the reinforcer?

    1. Hi there,

      This can vary greatly depending on the specific learner, but I often start teaching the timer right from the beginning (when the program is introduced). The learner would be prompted to sit and continue working if they attempt to get up before the timer goes off. This program is often introduced within comprehensive treatment, so usually the learner is already familiar with the concept of a timer.

  3. Hi there, I love this. I'm a new RBT and work with a 7yo that's highly functional. I'm struggling big time with teaching her independent play as well as task completion. I few a lot of sites are full of great ideas for younger kids. If you have any ideas for this age group it would be so appreciated

    1. Hello!

      There are a few different ways I may choose specific Task Completion targets:

      -What are the parent priorities? What challenges in the home setting/ daily life are serving as a barrier to independence?
      -Academically, is the child at grade level? If not, math and literacy skills can be used
      -What mastered targets could be generalized through Task Completion? For example, if the child can complete inset puzzles, try a peg or jigsaw puzzle inside of Task Completion

      Lastly, have you checked with your BCBA? Ultimately, any programming decision should come from the BCBA so be sure to reach out to them as a resource when you need ideas.

      Good luck!


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