Use Literal Language

TIP: “Hold Your Horses” – Use Literal Language

When communicating and giving instructions to your child with Autism it is important to remember they tend to comprehend verbal messages literally. Most children with Autism have difficulty processing and understanding abstract language, sarcasm, and idioms.  Because they are very literal in their understanding, your child may misunderstand your nonliteral phrases, regardless of how common they seem to be. For example, if you say “that’s a piece of cake” to let them know something will be an easy task, your child with Autism may assume that it is time for dessert. Or if you say “cut it out” to communicate that you want them to stop doing something, your child with Autism may start looking for scissors and paper. When giving an instruction make sure your language is specific and concise. Focus this week on being aware of the words and phrases you are using to direct your child. Before giving your next instruction, “hold your horses” and think literal!
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Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

When communicating and giving instruction to your child with Autism, only give directives that you are are able and willing to immediately prompt your child to complete! By immediately following each directive with the necessary prompts or assistance, you are teaching your child receptive language instruction, as well as, establishing the expectation that they are to comply with instructions the first time they are given. In order to effectively teach these skills, it is important that you are careful to eliminate the opportunity for your child to hear an instruction that they never have to complete. You would be better off to never give the instruction than to teach your child that you do not mean what you say by giving instructions that do not require compliance.

This will require some forethought and effort on your part. If you are in the kitchen cooking and can’t leave to go prompt or assist your child in cleaning up the toys, do not give the instruction yet. Wait until you have finished cooking dinner and are available to pair the instruction “clean up your toys” with the behavior of picking up the toys. This is much more effective than simply repeating the same instruction over and over while simply getting louder each time. It will take a few extra minutes in the beginning, but, in the long term it will save you time…..and your voice.

Here are a few specific examples:

1) Say “Come here” – wait 3-5 seconds.  If your child does not start moving toward you, go get your child’s hand and take them to where you were standing and reiterate the instruction – “I said Come Here” – then praise – “That’s how you come to Mommy”.

2) Say “Pick up your toys” – wait 3-5 seconds.  If your child does not start picking up their toys, use hand over hand assistance to pick up the toy and put it in the bin. Reiterate the instruction “I said clean up the toys”.  Prompt and reiterate instruction until complete – then praise “That’s how you pick up your toys”.

3) Say “Sit down for dinner” – wait 3-5 seconds.  If your child does not start coming to the table to sit in the chair, go get their hand and walk them to the chair.  Reiterate the instruction “I said sit down for dinner” – sit them down in the chair – then praise “That’s how you sit at the table for dinner”.

Let’s focus this week on being consistent in teaching receptive instruction skills and compliance when a directive is given!  We look forward to hearing about your success at

Keep Your Instruction Positive

TIP: Keep Your Instruction Positive

When giving instruction or direction to your child with Autism, be sure to keep your language positive. Your instruction should tell your child what TO do, not what NOT to do! Minimize the use of “stop” and “don’t” when giving instructions. For example, if your expectation for your child is to remain in their chair for lunch, it is more effective to say “sit in the chair” rather than saying “stop getting out of your chair and running around the room”.  Saying “sit in the chair” clearly and concisely reiterates your lunch time expectations for your child. Your child could stop running around the room but never accomplish the desired expectation of sitting in the chair for lunch. Let’s work this week to eliminate unnecessary instruction and stick to using positive language to effectively communicate our expectations. Praying for you all! Share your successes with us at

Keep Your Language Simple

TIP: Keep your language simple, clear and concise.

When giving instructions or commands to your child with Autism, use as few words as possible. Avoid using unnecessary comments and phrases that distract from the instruction. Gain your child’s attention prior to delivering the instruction, then deliver a clear and concise direction! It is typically much more effective to say “Go sit at the table” instead of saying “Hey, it’s time for dinner so everyone needs to come to the table”.  Practice this week and share your successes at