d27bf707540f4e8a953834fc2744ba02 7 Steps To Teaching One Step Directions To Children With Autism | Autism Little Learners

7 Steps To Teaching One Step Directions To Children With Autism

7 Steps To Teaching One Step Directions To Children With Autism

Teaching young children with autism one step directions can be a struggle!  Every school year, I have new students who have goals and objectives for imitation and following one step directions, and every year, my team and I start with the basics when teaching them. I’ll be honest and tell you that when I have a student that is not able to imitate me yet, I panic a bit.  Imitation is a KEY to learning!  I know that as a speech/language pathologist, I need to get on that ASAP.  I’ll let you in on a secret...I don’t panic anymore, because I have put a system into place that works!  I’m so happy to share it with you. I hope this system and hierarchy for teaching children with autism imitation and one step directions works for you too!  First, just a little dose of reality.  For some children, this hierarchy works really quickly and they make fast progress.  For others, it can feel slow and arduous.  Just keep pressing forward!  Some students just need a LOT of repetition to make that connection in their brain.  They will get there!


It’s best to teach motor imitation before moving on to more complex skills like following one and two step directions or verbal imitation.  This skill is such a huge building block for everything else, that it should be one of the first things on your radar when you start working with a new student who doesn’t exhibit this skill yet.   To start, say “do this” and clap your hands.  If your student is not able to copy you, follow these steps:


1.  FULL PHYSICAL CUE:  Start with the cue “do this”. After giving that cue, you perform the motor action (clap hands), and then immediately use a full physical cue to help the student clap their hands (hand over hand prompting).  Use a data sheet and track how they are doing.


2.  PARTIAL PHYSICAL CUE:  Give the cue “do this”, then place your hands on your student’s elbow and push in a bit to see if it cues them to finish the motor action of clapping their hands.


3.  VERBAL CUE ONLY:  Say “do this” and clap your hands.  When your student is able to imitate this consistently, then move on to a new action, such as “stomp feet”.  When introducing a new motor action, you may have to back up to step 1 in order to help them learn it.  Then, once it is mastered, you can start to alternate between the two actions and take data.  After that, continue on until your student can imitate a variety of motor actions.  I usually start with 10 motor actions.  Once they have those down, give yourself a high five and move on to step 4.

Motor Imitation for Children With Autism

Next, you will move from IMITATION to teaching the child to follow simple VERBAL directions.  Start with the same motor action(s) that you have just taught.


4.  VERBAL DIRECTION WITH VISUAL CUE:  Research shows time and time again that children with autism are visual learners, so a visual cue showing them what to do can be very helpful to bridge the gap in understanding how to follow one step directions.  Use a picture depicting what you want your student to do (e.g. “clap hands”).  You can take real pictures or purchase a simple set of visual supports that will provide a clear visual cue for your student.  Give the direction “clap hands” at the same time that you show the picture.  Take data on how your student does.  If they are not able to follow the verbal direction using the visual cue, move to step 5.


5.  VERBAL DIRECTION FULL PHYSICAL CUE:  For step 5, you will want to pair the visual cue card with the verbal direction (“clap hands”) and immediately use a full physical cue to help the student clap their hands (hand over hand prompting).  Use a data sheet and track how they are doing.


6.  VERBAL DIRECTION PARTIAL PHYSICAL CUE:  Similar to the previous step, for step 6 you will pair the visual cue card with the verbal direction (“clap hands”) and then place your hands on your student’s elbows and push in a bit to see if it cues them to finish the motor action of clapping their hands.


You may go back and forth between steps 4-6 for a while before you move on to step 7.  At some point, when your student can consistently follow the verbal direction when it is paired with a visual cue, you can remove the visual cue to see if they are able to follow the direction with only the verbal cue.


7.  VERBAL DIRECTION ONLY:  The final step is to give only the verbal direction “clap hands” and give some wait time if needed.  Take data to make sure you know if you are making progress.

Visual Cues with Children With Autism
Click here to see the visual supports for one step directions.

One Step Directions for Children With Autism


Tips to remember:

Occasionally you will have a student who doesn’t follow this exact order (doesn’t understand “do this”, but learns to follow the verbal direction with a visual cue). That's okay! Just move on to what they respond best to.


Reward often!  Some children need to be rewarded (praise, bubbles, tickles) after each attempt, while others can do several trials before they need a reward.  If your student is trying to walk away or is starting to become stressed or upset, that is a cue to YOU to reward more often.  It is also important to find a reward that is motivating to the student.  That’s another blog post!!!  LOL!


7 Steps To Teaching One Step Directions To Children With Autism


I created a set of data sheets to use when teaching children with autism how to imitate motor actions and follow one step directions. I also included 2 cue cards with the steps for teaching children with autism how to imitate motor actions and follow one step directions. They are yours for free!



Final note: If your student with autism has gone through and mastered all 7 steps to learn imitation and one step directions, it is time to move on to following one step directions by looking at picture scenes and then moving on to following two step directions. Finally, start embedding concepts into the two step directions!

Recommendations for activities for following one and two step directions:

Also, for additional training Click here to watch the Facebook Live Mini-Training titled "7 Steps To Teaching One Step Directions".

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The Ultimate Guide for Targeting Language Skills in Young Children with Autism

Would love to hear your comments below! Is this helpful? What else would you like to see from me? Thank you for everything you do & for being a part of the Autism Little Learners Community 💛🍎


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