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The Power of “First…Then”

Many people with autism have told me that they cannot stand when someone gives them a big, confusing list of things to do. Think about when you last told your child to get ready for school. How did you do it? “Get ready! We’re going to be late!” comes up pretty frequently. No instructions. Just the command. If your kid told you that they cannot, or don’t know how, or seem to be confused, would you take the time to stop and explain it? They’ve done this a million times. So why would you need to explain yet again?

For people with autism, routine is important, but some can also struggle with daily tasks of living such as hygiene, getting dressed, monitoring time to assure they get out of the door so that they are not late, etc. Most parents of children with autism know this early on and begin to work with their child, or know that they need to give a list. But what kind of list? Is it many items long? Or do you realize you forgot an item halfway through and say “oh, before you put on your shoes, brush your teeth?”

Lots of kids can roll with these types of commands, and even many with autism can. However, breaking things down into simple steps, especially as your child starts to hit that point of frustration, is helpful. This is where “first…then” comes in. Fun fact–this works with lots of kids, not just kids with autism.

The premise behind this is simple. You figure out the first two things you want your kid to do. Then you tell them, as simply as possible “first do x, then do y.” In the above example, instead of that huge list, you would break it down to “first brush your teeth, then put on your shoes.” Some kids may require even less verbal, particularly when they are nearing meltdown: “first teeth, then shoes.”

This also works well as a visual. Creating a visual with cue cards or photos that say “First…Then” that you can hand your child or hang up breaks things down. I’ll speak in another session about visuals, but this is one that is handy to have around even if you don’t have any other visuals in the home.

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