Following Instructions

Why is my child having trouble with following instructions?

When looking at our child’s skills, we will commonly be puzzled to why they are having so much trouble completing a task that we take for granted. The role of a speech pathologist is to break down the smaller steps that are required for your child to be successful in completing a skill such as following instructions.

Following instructions it is actually really complicated and requires a huge number of smaller skills to be developed first. These skills include (but are not limited to):

  • Listening skills (e.g. keeping hands still and making eye contact)
  • Knowing the names of objects and places (nouns), doing words (verbs) and describing words (adjectives) and numbers (for example “get the blue teddy”)
  • Understanding concepts (for example what does ‘big’ mean? What does ‘in’ mean? What does before mean?)
  • Recalling the information carrying words (for example “put your lunch in your bag”)
  • Using memory strategies (for example repeating instructions to yourself, or tracking instructions with your eyes)

Is there anything I can do at home to support?

Vocabulary - You can support your child to practice following instructions at home by building their vocabulary. You can model a range of vocabulary and concepts with your child by self-narrating what you do each day, for example ‘First I will pour the milk in, and then I will add the cereal’. You can also emphasise a variety of words when playing and interacting with your child. You can build vocabulary in daily tasks, for example at the supermarket you and your child can make a game of naming the foods you see. You can build understanding of concepts using different games, for example a running race can be a great demonstration of sequencing, like first and last, or before and after. Resources to support teaching a variety of concepts can be found here:

Recalling Information - You can support your child to recall information carrying words by playing chaining games, such as “I went to the shop and got…”. In chaining games each player must recall the items which have already been listed and add one to the list. You can also play following instructions games with items from around the house. If you would like more information on how to play these games, please see the Talking Matters resources, which include 3 following instructions games and a guide to information carrying words. These resources can be found here:

Memory Strategies - To build your child’s use of memory strategies you can model them whenever following instructions. For example if your child asks for apple juice, you can repeat “apple juice; okay I will get you some apple juice”.

How can a speech pathologist support these skills?

It is common that families and teachers will identify concerns with specific skills such as early literacy development. Speech pathologists are trained to analyse your child’s current skills and difficulties to identify smaller goals your child will need to achieve as stepping stones towards achieving a larger goal, such as reading and spelling. As every child is different, the skills that one child needs support in, is likely to be different to another child. Hence a thorough assessment is always the place to start. Supports for working towards developing the ability to follow instructions may include, but are not limited to:

  • Identifying if any of the above skills are lacking through the assessment process
  • Developing skills through fun and creative play-based activities
  • Supporting parents to develop their child’s skills at home, at school and in the community

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