Skills Building Activity for Developing Receptive Language

August 27, 2012, TBH Blog
TBH Blog

One of the biggest challenges facing parents and professionals working with a child with autism spectrum disorders, developmental delays, or related disorders can be getting them to follow directions.

This week’s featured activity will help you develop your child’s “compliance” with following directions. Compliance is a skill that does not come naturally for many children with challenging behaviors. Developing this skill requires creativity, persistence, patience, and commitment — yours as much as your child’s.

You can start developing compliance by giving your child simple directions while working on a preferred activity. For example, you may say: “Please go down the slide…”, “Please draw a house,” etc.

After your child successfully complies with your direction, you will reinforce their positive behavior. Hopefully, you will come away with ideas on how to build on this concept. The goal is to help you teach your child to follow directions for more difficult or non-preferred tasks.

This Week’s Featured Activity: Art Project

The strategy below demonstrates how you can use a preferred activity to teach your child to follow two-step directions.  Keep in mind that your child will need to have the prerequisite skills to perform this activity, including following single-step directions.

Art is a great skills-building activity for children with autism. It helps engage children, and can be modified easily to be appropriate for kids of all ages. If your child does not prefer art or has other special consideration, you can modify this activity to include the use of a more preferred activity such as computer time, playing with building blocks, or other play/work activities.

Objective: Follows two-step instructions during familiar activities
Developmental Area: Receptive Language
Method: Behavioral
Category: Art
Curriculum Level: Advanced
Setting: Adult-Child
Materials: Tangible reinforcers, such as the child’s favorite snack or toy; Any items needed for the art project


For this activity you will need to pick an art project that the child is familiar with performing.

Activity Procedure

  1. Sit across or beside the child at the table where he/she is performing his/her art project. Make sure you have tangible reinforcers with you.
  2. After the child has started the art project, give the child a two-step instruction that pertains to the art items (e.g., “Pick up a red crayon and give it to me.”).
  3. The first time you give the child the two-step instruction, say the first instruction (e.g., “Pick up a red crayon.”) and pause. As the child is performing the first instruction, give the second instruction (e.g. ‘Give it to me.’).
  4. When the child completes both steps, give the child a tangible reinforcer and social praise. If at anytime the child does not follow through with an instruction, give the child physical guidance while verbally repeating the steps and do not give him/her a tangible reinforcer or social praise.
  5. Continue with step 3 until the child is performing both steps independently, focusing on the same two-step instruction.
  6. When the child is successful with step 3, start fading the length of the pause in between the two instructions. Now give the child the first instruction, only pausing briefly, and then give the child the second instruction.
  7. Continue with step 5 until the child can independently complete both steps. As the child is successful, continue to decrease the pause in between the two instructions until you are naturally giving the child a two-step instruction without a pause between the first and second instruction.
  8. When the child is successful with the first two-step instruction, introduce a new two-step instruction related to the art activity. Don’t forget to reward with a preferred reinforcer and social praise. You will want to phase these out gradually, too.
  9. This is an activity you will want to repeat often. You can experiment with gradually increasing the difficult of the instructions to follow, but do no quickly move beyond a two-step instruction.

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