Sometimes youngsters with autism are slow to follow directions, even when told to do something they enjoy. We can certainly expect nearly every kid to respond reluctantly when we ask them to finish an unpopular chore or to go to bed early. But, some of our friends with autism are very slow to respond even when being asked to do something they really want to do. For example, sometimes a youngster appears to be reluctant when a teacher says, “Everybody line up for recess,” or a grandmother says, “Let’s go sit on the swing and read this book.” That apparent reluctance may actually be due to a processing delay.
If we notice a delay in these situations, we might want to make certain we are allowing our friends enough time to process the directions and to formulate a response. Even a person with very sophisticated language comprehension can have a processing delay. Several different factors can contribute to a delay in processing the words of a direction.
(1) Meaning of Words. Sometimes individuals with autism need a bit of extra time to sort through the meanings of words or phrases. For example, if a teacher tells the youngster to “run on out to the bus,” he might need to stop and think for a minute to determine if the teacher wants him to actually run, or if she is speaking figuratively.
(2) Train of Thought. Without meaning to do so, we often interrupt a person’s train of thought by repeating a direction or making another comment. The most effective strategy is to state a direction in concrete, positive terms, then look expectantly at the person, remaining silent to give them time to process the direction.
(3) Quick Response. Most of us are guilty of impatience. We expect instant responses to our directions. If a person has a processing delay, it is impossible for them to listen to the words, to decode the words, and to formulate a response within three seconds.
Granted, there are other reasons for delays in following instructions. Individuals may not be paying attention or they may be distracted. Background noise or other conversations may keep them from hearing the direction in the first place. A person may be purposefully ignoring you or they may be openly defiant. But we need to also consider the possibility of language processing delays.
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NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At FAQautism.com we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. Send email to talk@FAQautism.com And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. http://FAQautism.com
Published on: Feb 25, 2008