Receptive Language Skills: Teaching Following Directions to Kids with Autism | Stuck Series Part 2

The second area where parents and professionals often feel stuck when working with a child or client with autism is in the area of teaching receptive language skills. Receptive skills involve a person learning to follow directions. At the beginning for children with little to no language those instructions could be simple such as “stand up,” “get your shoes,” or “touch your belly.”

As children progress, we want them to be able to follow directions and to be able to understand what you are asking them without a visual prompt.

For instance, if I tell a child to touch his head, I want him to be able to touch his own head without me having to touch mine first. This is called a receptive language skill which is important for children and young adults with autism. 

But receptive language actually gets a lot more complex very quickly in our world and eventually we’d love for our kids to follow directions such as “get the red folder under the blue book and go to class.”

Imitation and Matching Skills

When kids with autism get stuck when they can’t follow even simple directions, we need to put in procedures to help them since developing receptive language skills is really important in so many areas.

In my two decades of experience, I’ve found that before we can get kids to respond to receptive commands and identify receptively, we need to first nail down imitation and matching skills

So if you are feeling stuck getting your child or client to follow directions, try going back to teaching them imitation.   You can say “Do this” while touching your own head or even say “Do this, touch head” and combine receptive and imitation skills. Fading out imitative prompts quickly using transfer procedures is important and you can read about that the linked blog.

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You can also work on receptive identification skills of pictures such as teaching children to touch cat versus a banana by first teaching them to match an identical picture of a cat to a cat or a picture of a banana to a banana. And, instead of saying “match” or “put with same” I’d recommend saying the item name only such as “cat.” This way, if the child echoes you, while he matches, it will be a real and functional word! Using multiple control procedures like this is often key to helping kids who are making little to no progress.

How to Progress with Receptive Language Skills

No matter the age of your child or client, you can start turning autism around. It’s always possible to make progress and your child or client should be making progress. As I said in my previous blog post about autism language assessments, your child or client should at least be safe and as independent and happy as possible.

The more objects and pictures your child or client can receptively identify and the more able to follow directions, the better their quality of life will be. They will understand their world to a greater degree and may be able to participate in more activities within their homes, schools, and communities. 

Ultimately what I want for your child or client is for things to be as good as possible. And I think my free workshops can help.

Depending on your role and the age of your child or client, I offer three different workshops.

Turning Autism Around for Parents of children ages 1-4.

Autism ABA Help for Parents of children ages 5-21.

Autism Professionals Bundle for ABA’s, teachers, SLP’s, and more.

These workshops will help you to better help your child or client, whether they are in the imitation stage or have more receptive language skills.

Do you want to learn more about turning autism around?
Workshop Sign-Up