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Following Through with Instruction

Have you ever thought of the ability to follow instructions as a safety skill?  Some kids don’t listen because they don’t want to or they are not motivated to.  Other kids don’t listen because they don’t understand.  My daughter was not born knowing how to hold my hand in a busy parking lot, or shopping center, it was a skill that we worked on over time as she got older. I wanted my daughter to understand that when I said, “Hold my hand,” it was for her safety. When she was younger this would require physical prompting, such as me taking her hand, holding my hand out, saying the words, “Hold my hand”. The only way that anyone, not just kiddos with ASD, are going to learn how to follow instruction is by us, as in parents, teachers, providers teaching them that what we say is meaningful.

What’s in it for them?

The most important thing when teaching instruction-following is to consider, “What’s in it for them?” It will likely be much easier for your child to follow the instruction, “Put on your shoes” when he’s going to the park than for him to follow the instruction when he’s going somewhere he does not want to go. If listening is a struggle, then use motivation and reinforcement to build this repertoire of behavior. To teach your child to respond to, “Come here”, start by teaching it when you are holding his favorite toy.  You can ask teach using first/then instructions

How to start

Make sure you are on the learner’s eye level. We want to make sure they are attending to what we are saying, and give them ample time to respond, we suggest at least 3-5 seconds, to give them time to process what you have said. Give them very short instructions, such as, “Hold my hand”. Instead of, “Hold my hand, because cars are going really fast, and you don’t want to . . . “. I was at my own child’s school the other day and saw one of her preschool friends being quite wiggly during morning circle, and his teacher leaned down and started telling him, “You must be quiet because the principle is talking and we be respectful…” it went on and on, and I myself was already loosing what the initial instruction was.

They didn’t listen now what?

This is where you need to follow through, and also where physical prompting comes in. If the child doesn’t put their shoes on, you provide the least amount of physical guidance to get the most effective response, maybe gently tapping their foot. Physical prompts should never be harmful or aggressive. Or in my daughter’s case, putting my hand to her hand to give her guidance that it is time to hold my hand. If they do follow your instruction on the first try give them lots of praise, that is great.

How much is too much?

We want to save demands being placed on the kiddo until you are ready to follow through. You don’t want to go overboard on them and give them lots of demands throughout the day, you want to start small and build. When you do place the demand on them you don’t want it to be a question. I will never say, “John will you hold my hand”, no because to a child that means you are giving them a choice and asking them a question. In a busy parking lot, I don’t want to give my daughter a choice on whether or not she will be holding my hand.

But what about their choice?

We want our kiddos to make their own choices; we think choosing is great. However, we also know that following instructions is a safety skill that is very much needed.  Therefore, in between placing a demand on your kiddo, let’s make sure we give him lot’s of times to make his own choices, “Which shoes do you want to wear today”, “Which should we go first in the store”.

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3 thoughts on “Following Through with Instruction”

  1. This is a slippery slope… in some cases, this strict adhere to always following through on an instruction could deteriorate into a bigger problem than you started with… a physical battle of the wits. It would have been nice to see here some mention of motivating participation, rather than forcing it. For example, if a child is sufficiently motivated to go outside this might be a good context to do some instruction around “put on your shoes.” In this situation, you have motivation (going outside) that can reinforce the behavior of putting on shoes. This also helps answer the question… “what’s in it for them to participate in the instructed action?” In a nutshell… motivate participation, do not force it.

    1. Good point! We can sometimes take for granted that motivation is an inherent part of teaching but I will make it more explicit above!

  2. Pingback: High-Probability Request Sequence & Behavioural Momentum - How to ABA

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