What Can We Learn About Autism From Breakfast Wraps?

Autism understanding is sometimes difficult. I keep learning more about the life challenges of children with autism by watching . . . .my own life. Here’s an example.

Do you like to try something new? I was looking for a quick and easy breakfast option for those days when I’m on the go. There were some breakfast wraps in the frozen food department. Certainly quick & easy.

I brought them home, eager to taste one. Here are the instructions:

Step one: Tear open one end of pouch (they are packed in a clear plastic baggie pouch)

Step two: Place in microwave on a plate

Step three: Microwave for 2 minutes

Step four: ???

Now here is the part that surprised me

Step four: Remove breakfast wrap from pouch before eating


Really, I would’ve figured that out.

I wouldn’t have tried to eat the plastic packaging. Would you?
To me, that step was assumed. But here is the question.

Why was Step 4 there?

Hmmm. . .I wonder how many people tried to eat the plastic?

Think about teaching all the routines of life

I began to think about the students with autism I have worked with. Some of them would have needed Step 4. In all honesty, a couple of teachers would probably have needed it too.

STOP! Please understand. I am not trying to poke fun here. But remember. . . the people who created the directions for those breakfast wraps recognized that some people need more specific instructions than others.

And think about this

The teacher who needs Step 4 may be more likely to include it for his or her students with autism than the teacher who assumes Step 4.

Do you get my point?

We all don’t think alike or learn alike. Are you one of those people who reads all the directions and then follows them step-by-step? Or do you just figure it out without consulting them? Can you see how this applies to more than just breakfast wraps?

So this is my point

Does your style match your students? Your own style will guide how you teach all those routines and activities of life. The challenge is to pick the right steps to help each student on the autism spectrum or with special learning needs succeed.

I get lots of questions about what kinds of visuals to use to teach a routine

People ask about photos and line drawings. Should the sequence be vertical or horizontal? Is it better to hang visual supports on a wall or put them in a book?

But I don’t get many questions about deciding which steps to put in the routine

What I do hear is some people’s frustration because the students are not performing the routines successfully.

So here’s something to think about

What information do we assume our students know? Is there something that is not so obvious to them? Are we including all the steps that they need? Is there anything we need to add for them to perform successfully?

This is an issue that can apply to all students

All students can need help, but those on the autism spectrum may be likely to experience more difficulty than others. Challenges in thinking, reasoning, observation, imitation, comprehension and related skills can affect their ability to understand the assumed.

Sometimes our students on the autism spectrum need to be specifically taught skills or steps that other students figure out without instruction. I wonder how many behavior problems and social skill challenges are related to this need for more support?

If everything is going well. . .

It’s good if things are good. But if there are some glitches. . .think about what extra information you might include to make the difference.

It reminds me of one more story

I was consulting with some teachers on a project where they were trying to create step-by-step directions to teach a student how to make a smoothie.

They wrote, “Pour some milk into the blender.” I asked them how much milk the student needed. They told me that the teacher would tell the student when to stop. It took some conversation for them to understand that they were making the teacher a part of the task. They weren’t teaching the task in a way that the student would learn an independent skill.

Giving directions, creating steps to accomplish any task or trying to teach students how to achieve independence are important goals that aren’t always easy to accomplish. Watching how these goals are met outside the world of special education (like on the package of a breakfast wrap) can help us help our students with special learning needs like autism to succeed.

And one more thought

The worst people to write instructions for anything related to technology are the “tech geeks.” Somehow they “assume” you know absolutely everything that you don’t really know, and their directions can feel like reading a foreign language. Can you identify?

Do you have an experience to share?

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  1. Valuable and entertaining portrayal of the need for specificity to counteract the literalness that often accompanies autism. Though I expect the wrap maker was trying to avoid getting sued.

    Great example of how incomplete instructions can impede independence when a bit of extra practice and a tape or mark on the outside of the blender might suffice.

  2. Me being me, many years ago I would have haphazardly pulled the wrap from the box, removed the plastic, microwaved it for an estimated amount of time until I felt it was done and all without reading a single instruction. My natural tendency is to be the exact opposite of the person who needs the instructions. Over the years having made many many mistakes, messing up at work a few times and even wasting money due to this tendency I have learned to read first, be more systematic and check thoroughly before proceeding.
    I admit that I’m a creative problem solver. Somehow written instructions are often more confusing to me than figuring it out on my own.

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