Sequencing, or putting tasks or objects in order, can be a challenge for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). This is an element of executive functioning that involves such undertakings as following directions, telling stories, making a schedule, and establishing priorities. Sequencing is a very important skill for school and for life, and, fortunately, there are many activities you can use to help kids overcome this challenge.
Six Sequencing Activities
Because sequencing is analytical and can sometimes be broken down into a routine or pattern, activities that focus on this skill can be really enjoyable for some students with autism. Consider trying some of these ideas.
Making Daily Schedules
Many teachers and paraprofessionals use visual schedules to help students with ASD understand what to expect from each day. Each activity is represented by a small picture and placed in sequential order on a schedule. The student takes the picture off the schedule and places it in the work area. When the task is finished, the picture moves to the "Done" folder. The next task on the schedule moves to the work area. This is a great tool for home, as well as school.
This type of schedule can help with sequencing, and you can take it a step further for kids who are already adept at the basics. To practice independent sequencing of daily activities, kids can make their own daily schedule each morning from a group of prepared cards. Give the child lots of time to set up the schedule and then go over it together.
Focusing on Sequencing in Reading
One way to keep kids engaged in their work is to choose topics that interest them. Many children with autism have special interests that are very intense and far-reaching. Books about these interests can be a great springboard for storytelling, which is an important form of sequencing.
- Start with a book that corresponds to the student's special interest. It doesn't have to have a narrative, but it should at least describe some type of process.
- Read the book out loud to the student or have the student read the book to himself.
- When the book is finished, ask the child to describe what happened. Use terms like "first" and "next."
- Help the student make a numbered list of steps that happened in the book.
Story Time Felts are another tool you can use for this type of sequencing activity. The sensory-friendly felt material is ideal for students on the autism spectrum because they are quiet and soft, and kids can use the boards to create a story from beginning to end.
Using Color for Priorities
Although not everyone on the autism spectrum is a visual thinker, many students do learn very well this way. Since assigning priorities to various tasks and items can be a challenge, color-coding is a great visual way to help kids decide what's more important.
For younger students, you can use pictures for the various tasks the child may want to need to complete in a day. These may include getting dressed, doing homework, playing, watching TV, eating dinner, and other daily activities. Then choose three colored bins to represent the level of importance and help the child sort the activities into each bin.
Older students can use colored folders to help prioritize homework assignments, taking into account the date each is due and the amount of time each task will take.
Sequencing with Video Modeling
Video modeling is an important teaching strategy for kids on the autism spectrum. Generally, it involves taking a video of the child or another person performing a task and then having the child watch the video multiple times to learn how the activity is completed. You can take this a step further and turn it into a sequencing activity too.
- Choose a video of the child or someone else performing typical daily tasks or a special project.
- Help the student make a list of all the things the person is doing in the video.
- Cut the list into strips, each of which contains an activity the video subject performed.
- Have the student put the list in order.
Crafting and Communicating with Candy
A craft is a great way to keep kids engaged and interested in learning, especially when it involves something the child can eat. In this craft, the student will make an edible candy bracelet and then explain the process to another adult. The reward for properly explaining the process is being able to eat the candy.
- To get started, cut up several candy necklaces and sort the pieces according to color. Gather up other supplies, such as a piece of thin elastic cord, a measuring tape, some scissors, and a piece of paper.
- Explain to the student that step one will be measuring for the bracelet. Take the student's wrist measurement and write it down. Write down that measuring was step one.
- Explain that the next step is cutting the elastic. Make the elastic a little longer than the student's wrist. Help the student write down that step two was cutting the elastic.
- Have the student select a color for the first five pieces of candy and explain that this is the next step. Write down the step.
- Repeat with various other colors of candy until the bracelet is complete. Write down each step as you go.
- Tie off the bracelet and write that down as the final step.
- After the bracelet is complete, give the list of steps to another adult. Have the student explain the process for completing the bracelet to the other adult. If she gets it correct, she can eat the candy.
Performing a Week-Long Task
Sequencing isn't just about short tasks. Some activities can take much longer, and it's good to include a few of these in your work as well. In this activity, the student with autism will create a schedule for building a kite and then follow that schedule with a teacher or parent.
- Work with the student to break the task into five pieces. These might include making a list of supplies needed, going to the store to buy the supplies, assembling the frame of the kite, stretching the fabric on the kite, and giving the kite a test run.
- Help the student create a schedule in which each component of the kite project occurs on one day of the week. Talk about why things need to happen in a certain order.
- Put the student in charge of the project. He or she must remind you when it's time to do that day's part of the kite.
- At the end of the week, the student can keep the kite as a reward for finishing the project.
Building Skills and Phasing Out Adult Help
Sequencing can be a challenge for kids with autism, but with practice and patience they can build their skills to the point where they don't need as much adult help. Great interactive activities are the best way to keep kids engaged and help them make progress on their goals.