Autism difficulty following instructions

“Autism difficulty following instructions.” For many parents and teachers, these words go together.

It’s a classic problem for many students, but those with autism, ADHD or related learning challenges often experience more difficulty than their peers.

The adults want to know what to do to handle the problem. It all depends on what is causing the difficulty.

Of course, there are many reasons there can be problems. Here are some examples.

The student:

  • Doesn’t listen to complete directions before acting
  • Doesn’t remember what to do
  • Has difficulty transitioning from another activity
  • Doesn’t want to do what requested
  • May not know how to do task
  • May not be able to do task for some reason
  • Has trouble knowing if teacher talking to him or another student
  • Might need more time to process the instructions

The environment:

  • Is too noisy
  • Has too many distractions
  • Speed of activity is too fast

The communication partner:

  • Doesn’t get the student’s attention before communicating
  • Doesn't give clear instructions
  • Does not mean what she says or does not say what she means
  • Talks too fast
  • Gives too many instructions or uses too much extra language
  • Repeats instructions quickly & uses different language so student needs to “start over” processing the request

There can also be a combination of several of these factors that occur simultaneously.

Will therapy solve the problem?
I’ve seen IEP objectives that say things like,

“Student will follow 1-step directions . . .” or
“Student will follow 2-step directions . . . .”

Then therapy activities include multiple trials of stand up, sit down, point to your nose and other specific directions.

Here’s my question
Why is the student having difficulty completing the requested task?

Will practicing “following directions” help the student to improve his ability to respond if the problem is that the teacher talks too fast? Will it help when the classroom is too noisy?

Are there solutions?
In reality, these students spend a major amount of time in less than optimal environments.

Visual strategies solve many problems
Using something visual is a simple way to eliminate a lot of challenges.

  • Visuals help get a student’s attention, even when there is noise, distractions, or the communication environment is not cooperative.
  • Visuals communicate the message clearly even when the communication partner does not.
  • The student can re-visit the visual support as many times as necessary to remember and clarify the instructions.

Visual supports reduce the stress and frustration for both the student and the communication partner.

Visual strategies offer a simple solution for chronic communication problems. Those visual supports help teachers and parents manage the situation of autism difficulty following instructions.

wipe your nose visual
be quiet visual

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  1. I would like to reference your work on my assignment please – the blog I used was 'Visual strategies for autism: Believe it or not. . . .' – what date was this written please? Many thanks, Ruth

    1. Yes, you have permission to reference information from my blog post as long as you properly reference the author and source of the information.

  2. Our six-year- old grandson, who we have legal custody of. We recently learned has Autism. Is having great difficulty in school. He has been kicked out of preschool. He is currently in kindergarten but has had fourth office referral for his behavior. Out-Of-School Suspension, each time was given a three day Out-Of-School-Suspension. In result, developed a day word list of his activities in broken down by activity that they full out every day and send home with him. A look into his day, more days like this than not, yelling at table mates during morning snack, took a 5-minute pause break. A lot of screaming. He throws during seat work. He throws materials, hit and kicked fellow classmates. Knocked student from another class to the ground in hallway walking to lunch. He refused to walk in line with his class. Pushing classmates with his body and kicking them. Refused to walk with class back to the classroom. Pushing another class member off the swings because he wanted swing. When teacher tried to talk to him, my grandson, spit at the teacher. other student. He put his hands on the teacher. He was sent to set in the office until time to go home.

    1. Dear grandparents:
      It sounds like your grandson is having a lot of problems in school and it sounds like the school does not have a program set up to meet his needs. Here are steps you need to take.

      1. Who gave him the diagnosis? Was it the school or an outside source? It’s important to understand that if the evaluation was done outside of school, the school will probably decide to do their own assessments.

      2. You need to request a school evaluation and an IEP IMMEDIATELY. Talk to the school about this but be sure to request it in writing. It takes time to work through this process so the sooner you do this, the better. What should happen is that an evaluation will help determine what the causes of his behavior eruptions are. Then the IEP is a plan to teach him the skills he needs to learn.

      Out-of-school suspension is generally not an effective strategy to help autistic students learn behavior skills to manage their school experience successfully. He needs a school program that will teach him to manage his emotions and his behavior more effectively.

      You have a need, now, to learn a lot more about autism. Here is one source to give you an introduction.
      Use the coupon code: jan24 to get a 60% discount.

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