Step 2.4 Get the toddler's attention

Parents and practitioners should establish the toddler’s attention before providing cues, prompts, questions, instructions, and/or choices (see Prompting Strategies). Strategies for gaining attention include: saying the toddler’s name, tapping on their shoulder, making an enthusiastic sound or phrase, giving a quick tickle, making eye contact, and/or arranging the environment to support shared control (see Shared Control). Strategies for gaining a toddler’s attention should also be varied over time.

Individualization: Orienting cues and nonverbal toddlers

Some toddlers who are nonverbal may have difficulty orienting and attending to the relevant cues in the learning interaction, such as, a verbal model of a word. In this case, effective and individualized strategies for gaining child attention/orienting should be tried (Koegel, Shirotova, & Koegel, 2009).

Using individualized orienting cues just prior to providing the verbal model prompt could improve the beginning learner’s response to the verbal model prompt, that is, imitation of the verbal model.


A three-year-old nonverbal toddler who had difficulty developing first words, oriented to and imitated the verbal model immediately after being asked to give a high-five.

High-fives were found to consistently produce an orienting response from the three-year-old. The researchers thought that the high-five functioned to orient the child to the relevant information: the adult’s verbal model of the word.