Available research and parental reports suggest there are a number of reasons to suspect that people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may have difficulty judging the passage of time and recalling the order of events. While there is limited research on the topic at this time, a small study found that individuals with autism demonstrated deficits in temporal processing—the rate at which we can process auditory information. This reduced ability appears to have an adverse impact on learning and development of other cognitive functions. As this relates to language, deficits in temporal processing appear to impact sequencing—the ability to organize actions, events, language, and thoughts in order.
Individuals with language sequencing problems may display issues with spoken and/or written language. Challenges with sequencing may affect a child’s ability to follow instructions, share coherent narratives and complete multi-step tasks. Sequencing skills are necessary to talk and write about events and experiences in the past in a logical manner. Organizing, prioritizing and sequencing skills help us plan our lives and manage time effectively. Fortunately, there are a variety of simple activities and tasks to help develop sequencing skills in individuals with ASD.
Facilitate language by asking your child open-ended questions about familiar events (e.g., How do you wash your hands? How do you get ready in the morning?). If your child tells you the sequence out of order, help put it in order, then ask him/her to retell the sequence.
After reading a story or watching a TV show, retell the sequence of events including the beginning, middle, and Use transition words (i.e., first, next, then, last) to help develop narrative skills.
Have your child engage in activities such as doing laundry, making a meal or planting a garden. Ask your child to verbalize or use pictures to sequence the target task.
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This practice helps individuals learn to monitor and evaluate their behavior without adult prompts or intervention. Make schedules, so the student knows what to expect each day. Use a token reinforcement system (e.g., checkmarks, stars, etc.) as the child completes tasks. If appropriate, the child can make his/her own schedule to practice daily sequencing of events. This will help develop organization and independence over time.
Choose a video of the child or someone else performing a sequence of actions. Have the child watch the video to learn and discuss the steps to complete a task, for example making a phone call or setting the table. Ask questions such as, “What do you do first?, “What do you do next?” or “What happens last?” Have the child complete the task with or without assistance.
Use story sequencing cards (i.e., pictures) to teach your child logical order of events. This activity gives the child a chance to demonstrate their sequencing skills without verbal demands. Graphic organizers may be used to practice telling stories that have all the key details in the appropriate order. This can help your child narrate his/her school day, trip to the park or things that happened on vacation. Incorporate drawings and illustrations to help elicit vocabulary.
Fortunately, there are a variety of practical strategies to practice language sequencing daily across home and school environments. Collaboration between parents, teachers, and specialists is key to addressing and generalizing this important skill in school and life.
Martin, J. S., Poirier, M., & Bowler, D. M. (2010). Brief report: Impaired temporal reproduction performance in adults with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 40(5), 640-646.
Odom, S. L., Collet-Klingenberg, L., Rogers, S. J., & Hatton, D. D. (2010). Evidence-based practices in interventions for children and youth with autism spectrum disorders. Preventing school failure: Alternative education for children and youth, 54(4), 275-282.
Time perception problems may explain autism symptoms. (2010, September 20). Retrieved May 20, 2018, from https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/time-perception-problems-may-explain-autism-symptoms/
This article was featured in Issue 80 – Conquering Challenges With ASD