Younger children with ASD, or those with limited language, often have difficulty understanding instructions, which can make it harder for them to cooperate.
– There are too many instructions –
Children with ASD often need a little extra time to process what you’re asking them to do and can feel overwhelmed if they’re asked to do too many things at once. Keep the requests short and specific.
For example “ Wash your teeth, put your shoes on, get your coat and meet me at the front door to go to school.”
Break the tasks down one at a time and slow yourself down too when giving them. By slowing your speech down and if necessary, repeating the words and pausing after each sentence allows time for understanding. Always use a child’s name when giving the instructions and make sure they are giving you their undivided attention. When one task is completed, be full of praise and move onto the next one. You may need to repeat it again or again.
– The instructions are too hard
Sometimes children don’t have the right skills to do what they’re asked to do.
For example, if a child doesn’t know how to button a shirt, they might have difficulty being asked to get dressed. So there are a few additional things you can do to support the instruction. You may have to repeat the request for the child, depending on each child’s understanding levels. Try not to get frustrated because you have done this once…or twice before.
Using this example, you may have to do one button and get the child to do the next, make a game of it which takes away the fear and frustration of not knowing how to do something. Use an image, or take a video on your phone of the child doing it to show again. Be patient and check along the way that the instructions have been understood. If your child is non-verbal look for signs or actions that they understand.
– The instructions are too vague
Children might have trouble cooperating if it isn’t clear what they’re supposed to do.
For example, ‘Watch your shoes on the couch’ or ‘Do you want to go to bed?’.
It’s best to be as clear as possible. You may need to adjust your language from what you want to how to have it achieved and understood. Children on the spectrum often take things literally, so the use of direct language is important, and it is worth practising how to be direct. If your child can learn how to complete one instruction, the next step is to give two instructions at once. This gives them a better chance of being able to perform in the school environment.
There are differences between your child not following instructions or a child just not doing something because they don’t want to and having a tantrum about it. That is a behavioural issue. This Blog is focusing on instructions as dealing with behavioural problems needs different forms of strategies, which we can also help with.