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.

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