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Autism Series: The Problem with Inaccurate Examples

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Teachers often provide examples when teaching new skills. Non-examples are sometimes used to highlight a potential mistake. The purpose of a non-example is to help the child avoid making the same mistake themselves. Caution should be used when teaching individuals with autism using non-examples as you may inadvertently teach them to do something wrong. Similarly, teachers may think that inaccurate examples are not be a big deal. Slight inaccuracies can probably be processed and passed over by many populations. Children with autism, however, may not be able to pass over imprecise examples. Instead, they may try to complete the activity exactly as modeled.

Real life situations where inaccurate examples resulted in a problem:

Example 1:

I had discovered the benefits of using video modeling to teach my students classroom jobs. One such job was to take the attendance to the office. I started by creating an activity schedule to remind students of the steps required. Next I created a video of the process. While I was taking the video off of my camcorder and recording it on a VHS tape (remember attendance, walk to office, put in box, walk back to classroom.those?), I became bored watching my actor walk down the hallway to the front office. So, I fast forwarded the parts where the actor walk walking straight down the hallway. I showed my class the video model. They knew what to do and were then able to take the attendance to the office. I had one student who followed the video exactly. Without fail, he would run through the hallway during the parts where the actor was fast-forwarded.

Lesson learned: Make sure that the timing you model is precise.

The Picture Communication Symbols ©1981–2016 by Tobii Dynavox. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Used with permission.

Boardmaker® is a trademark of Tobii Dynavox.

Example 2:

wash hands, turn on water, get soap, wash hands, count, rinse hands, turn off water, dry hands, throw paper towel away, all doneI also created an activity schedule and video model to teach my students how to wash their hands. This instructional accommodation was effective for most of my students. One of my students had a difficult time getting past the pictorial representation of soap. In the steps, the image is of bar soap. In my classroom, we only had pumped soap. Although it is difficult to see in the photograph, the “wash hands” image also shows a bar of soap in one hand. In my video model, the actor used pump soap at that step; however, my student was stuck. He would grab anything rectangle shaped at that step and would not use the pumped soap. We had to start keeping bar soap at the classroom sink.

Lesson learned: Make sure your picture examples accurately represent what you expect to happen.

The Picture Communication Symbols ©1981–2016 by Tobii Dynavox. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Used with permission.

Boardmaker® is a trademark of Tobii Dynavox.

Example 3:

I would use the Edmark reading program with most of my students. With one particular student, I would say the target word after she read it. Her articulation was not especially clear, so I repeated the word to model more accurate pronunciation. Eventually, she started saying each word she read two times. Teaching fail! You are only supposed to say each word you read one time. I was able to correct this error and she was soon only reading each word one time.

Lesson learned: Make sure I am really demonstrating what I want to have happen.

In summary, examples that are not precise may become a problem for children with autism. When using inaccurate examples, you may accidentally teach something you did not intend to teach. Although this teaching error may not be avoided 100% of the time, it can be prevented in many situations by making sure that examples you present to children are accurate representations of what you want them to do.


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