Green Lights: What They Are, and How to Build on Them

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Green Lights: What They Are, and How to Build on Them

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Green Lights: What They Are, and How to Build on Them

We are so excited to share with you some useful tips about how to help your child follow your invitation to play!

In The Son-Rise Program, we joyfully invite our children to play with us only when they have given us a Green Light, or a collection of Green Lights. Remember when you are assessing your child, essentially you are considering if your child is offering Green Lights or Red Lights.

Here are examples of Green Lights: 

Your child looks at you, comes toward you, touches you, smiles when showing interest in you, look toward the shelf of toys, and/or makes a speech-like sound or says something clearly that you are going to quickly respond to.

Here are examples of Red Lights:

Your child is involved in and focused on a repetitious and/or exclusive activity. If your child is higher functioning, in addition to exclusive activities, they may speak to you in rigid and controlling manner that does not allow much room for you other than to listen or give the answer that they are passionately seeking.

Offering something fun to your child only when they give you a Green Light will help ensure that they are strengthening their skill of initiating and sustaining connections with other people. If you interrupt the ism by offering something during Red Lights, then it goes against important aspects of your program. For example, unintentionally you come across as not very user friendly or predictable and as a result, your child may need to be more controlling around others. Another result of interrupting the ism is that your child may become reliant on needing to be prompted to engage with another person. For example, they may be lining up toys and you are requesting for them to look at you blowing bubbles, instead of looking at their toys. Although they may show some interest after you interrupt, you are not giving your child a chance to practice being spontaneous and initiating interactions with others.

Now that you are super sharp at assessing the difference between Red and Green Lights, let’s talk about some fun thoughts of what to DO when you get that GREEN LIGHT so that you can invite and inspire your child to be interested in playing with you!

Your child gives you a GREEN LIGHT


Build up your child’s desire to play with you by offering something very fun for them to watch and eventually participate in. We call this action Building on the Green Light in The Son-Rise Program.

Current Interest – When you are joining your child’s ism, consider what your child is motivated by in this activity.  When you get a Green Light, you can increase their interest by responding in a big way. For example, if your child rolls balls down the slide a few times and then she looks at you, say “WOOO HOO! I love it when you look at me!” and then throw the balls you were using to join your child all over the room. If your child likes to talk about the ages of all of his relatives and when their birthdays are, when you have a longer pause you can say, “I love that you are sharing this with me,” and then pull down a puppet and pretend the puppet is Grandpa – and sing Happy Birthday to Grandpa.

Past Motivation – Equip yourself and your team members with an overflowing motivation treasure box. After each of your sessions, you and your team members can write down what they think your child was interested in about the games that you played. If your child watches you blow bubbles for 1 minute, bubbles is a motivation. If you cluck like a chicken when the chicken puppet eats the bubbles, then chicken clucks is also a motivation. Tape this list of the last 2 weeks of motivations on the door of your child’s playroom so that team members have bountiful treasures to offer your child.

Do Something Fun to Watch – We have found that our children, no matter what age or where they may be on the spectrum, are really into compelling cause and effect, and silly slapstick humor. Have fun and just do the first thing that comes to your mind!


Take Action – Take action versus asking a questions. Make certain to use props and make yourself interesting to watch. Stock your shelves with puppets, bubbles, musical instruments, hats, balls, masks, ribbons, etc. Try dancing all over the room while blowing bubbles and singing “You Are My Sunshine”. Learn 10 different character voices, learn 10 songs, learn how to juggle, etc. Do something unexpected that incorporates slapstick like walking into a wall, pulling 10 scarves from your sleeve, making a puppet burp out fake food, etc.  For our higher functioning children who like to talk about their favorite movies, video games or books, you can bring their topic to life by becoming the characters. For instance, print off images of their favorite characters, then act out these characters.

Use the 3E’s – When you make your fun offer, do it with Enthusiasm, Energy and Excitement! Again, use your body, your voice and your celebration to express your joy and that you are fun.

Try your fun offer for at least 15 seconds and then assess if your child is showing more interest in you, or if they have gone back to their ism. Consider offering the same idea a few times before moving onto a new fun idea. This way we can give our children enough opportunity and time to show interest in our fun show, and then eventually ask them to participate in some way.


GIVE GIVE GIVE more of what your child seems to be motivated by so that you can support building a bridge for them to come your way for longer and more frequent periods of time. Once they are motivated then we can request from them.

Sometimes your children will not show a sustained interest after they give you a Green Light. Don’t take it personally. It just means your child needs some more time to regulate in their ism.  Often in the beginning of a child’s Son-Rise Program, they may only play 30% of what your offer.  There is no loss in this though. Remember, even in that 15 second window you and your team are showering your child with love and joy in your celebration and giving a snapshot of other people being delightfully playful.  One hundred percent of your Builds are planting seeds for your child’s future creativity and confidence in being with other people.


Have any questions? Ask an Autism Expert

Contact us for a complimentary priority call with a Son‑Rise Program Advisor & free Autism resources.


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