Many factors can interfere with a child on the autism spectrum processing the important information being conveyed in daily instructions. Receptive and expressive languages are both very difficult. People tend to assume that a child does not listen to instructions or directions when no response is made or incorrect responses occur. Sounds can be very different for a person with autism. Their brain may become overloaded with sounds that others are able to filter out. In a typical household doors squeak, floors creak, clocks tick, microwaves beep, footsteps thud and televisions mumble in the background. All of these are examples of sounds that we might be able to tune out but a child with autism is trying to process along with the daily instructions. Another processing issue a child may have is the inability to determine that the instructions are more important than the clock ticking. All of this in turn leads to frustrating family situations.
Helpful Hints for Giving Daily Instructions
• Speak directly to the child and give simple specific instructions – Do not give instructions from across the room or with your back turned while you are doing something else.
• Use plain simple words, short sentences and add gestures like pointing.
• Tell the child what to do and what is coming next. Leave out all the extra comments.
• Be patient and understanding, they may not be able to pull up needed words quickly.
• Read the child’s body language for understanding.
• Do not use idioms or puns like “Hold your horses, cowboy!” People with autism are concrete thinkers and view the world literally. This phrase does not mean slow down or use walking feet. Another example would be “That is a piece of cake.” This saying is very confusing for a child who is then looking for a treat to eat.
• Show a child how to do an activity rather than tell them how. Visuals are extremely important!
• Wait and give extra time to answer questions and respond to requests. Processing time is needed.
• With routine instructions give the exact same request every time until the skill is acquired.
• Some skills may need to be broken down in to smaller steps with individual instructions. An example is a tooth brushing procedure. This task may need several steps, instructions for preparing toothbrush, instructions for brushing, and instructions for cleaning up and putting items away.