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Following 1-Step Instructions



You love working on arts & crafts projects and are currently working on a card for the holidays, “Pass me the scissors!” you state to your partner sitting across the table from you.

A furnace needs some cleaning and maintenance before the season changes – “Can you give me the screwdriver?” the HVAC technician asks his apprentice.

Following 1-step instructions is a big part of our daily functioning and is more prevalent than we initially realize. We can see how this simple and basic skill can be applicable for work and academic tasks, as well as in social situations. Following a 1-step instruction paves the way for following more complex requests with additional steps.

The teacher calls out to the class, “Get your history and geography notebooks, then sit at your desk.”.

Your boss gives you a new project that involves multiple steps before completion.

A friend has a surprise birthday party coming up, and you need to follow the host’s directions on where to park and how to enter through the back of the house to not ruin the surprise.

If we want our learners to be able to engage in similar activities, we need to teach them to follow 1-step instructions.

Why Are Instructions Important?

As you can tell from the examples above, following instructions is part of our everyday activities. If we want our learners to excel in the classroom, the workforce, as well as socially, then we need to start with simple 1-step instructions.

Our goal is that the learner will comply with the instruction on the first request, without engaging in stereotypy.

How Can We Accomplish This?

Start with skills already in the learner’s repertoire to ensure compliance and to gain instructional control. Once you have gained their attention, present your instruction (the SD), and provide reinforcement for appropriate attending behaviour.

SD: “clap your hands”
Learner claps hands

What If…?

What if the learner errs or engages in stereotypy? Bring the learner back to the spot where you initially gave the instruction and re-present the SD. Here you will need to physically prompt the learner to complete the 1-step instruction.

SD: “clap your hands”
Learner taps on the table
You may need to re-gain the learner’s attention before presenting the SD again
Re-present the SD: “clap your hands”
Use a full-physical prompt to clap the learners’ hands

What Next?

Now that you have a basic understanding of the importance of teaching 1-step instructions, and what to expect when teaching this skill – what requests should you give to your learner?

Below is a breakdown of the 6 types of instructions to present to your learner.

1-Step Simple Instructions – Cued
This first set of target responses are cued instructions. This means that there is a cue in the environment which will help direct the learner on how to successfully complete the task.

SD: “high five”
Instructor holds up their own hand

1-Step Simple Instructions – Not Cued
The second set of simple instructions is not cued. These do not include cues in the environment for how to successfully complete them.

SD: “clap your hands”

1-Step Instruction Involving Distance
These instructions differ from the previous two steps, as it involves the learner travelling a short distance to complete the task.

SD: “Put this in the garbage”

1-Step Instruction to “Go Get” an Item
This step requires the learner to have the pre-requisite skill of learned receptive labels (check out our blog post on Discrimination Training). Here the student will need to combine the learned skills of following 1-step instructions involving distance and discrimination training (being able to identify the item requested).

SD: “Go get the water bottle”

1-Step Instruction Increased Distance
The goal of this step is to expand on their previously mastered skills. To ensure that learners can apply these skills in multiple contexts, we want to increase the distance between the learner and instructor to mimic a classroom setting.

2-Step Instructions
Now that our learner can follow learned and novel 1-step instructions in different contexts (e.g., sitting, standing, while moving, etc.), we want to teach them to follow any combination of instructions.

“Clap your hands, and wave”, should not always be presented together.

When it comes to providing 2-step instructions, you can choose from any previously learned 1-step instruction. The main thing to remember when teaching this step is to not always pair the same two combinations together. The more variety in the instruction, the better for your learner!

2 thoughts on “Following 1-Step Instructions”

  1. Pingback: ABA Pairing - How to ABA

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