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Following Directions

Following Directions. When you give a child a direction such as "Sit Down," they have a few ways of figuring out what you mean. They can watch you model it for them (e.g. You say "sit down" and gesture as you sit and they figure it out). By itself, modeling is usually insufficient to teach our learners, because their disability usually prevents them from attending to or understanding your gesture, at least initially. Before training, your learner might be paying attention to the curtain flapping behind you, while you are desperately trying to get their attention ("Hey over here! Look, I'm sitting! Can you sit too?"). Without a way to show them what you mean you might as well be speaking gibberish.

So what can we do other than model the behavior we want them to imitate? We can prompt them what to do. For most teaching situations, we like the most-to-least prompting heirarchy.

Most to Least Prompting

Most to least prompting involves giving your learner enough physical or verbal cues to accomplish whatever response you are asking them to make. For Following Directions this usually requires physical prompting with early learners, at least initially. (Experienced learners can be taught by less intrusive means. Many can be taught to learn by modeling alone). For example, when teaching "sit down," you may have to gently pull your learner on to your lap, or gently press them into a chair or a seated position on the floor. You don't have to keep them there. But to be able to understand what is meant by "sit down," they have to experience the consequent action of sitting down, whenever they hear the phrase. (Note: your child may be resistant to physical prompting due to sensory issues. It is possible to gently work them up to the necessary level of physical contact with sensory integration techniques and behavioral procedures--coming soon.)

Pretty soon, you will see that your learner is anticipating that you will help them sit, whenever you say "Sit down." You may feel them start to actively start sitting even as your hands are on them guiding them. Whenever you feel their muscles take over, immediately let go and allow them to complete the action on their own. You may get to the point that just gently touching their shoulders will be enough of a physical cue to remind them to which skill "Sit down" refers. This is an example of fading your physical prompt from a full physical (helping them sit) to a partial physical prompt (touching their shoulders). For specific examples of most to least prompting, see The Early Learner at Home video. Following the prompt fading heirarchy, you can fade subsequently to a gestural or modeling prompt.

A Word About Compliance: Once your child understand what is expected of them by the words "Sit down" or other verbal direction, they inevitably will challenge you every now and again to see if you really mean that they must do it now. This is normal child behavior. If you would like to have a well behaved child, continue to require your child to respond to your direction, or teach them negotiation skills to get out of the task in an appropriate way. E.g. "But I don't want to, can I do it later?", etc.