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Using Priming to Help Autistic Children With Change

“When you open your eyes in the morning, things change,” Mandy says in Marvel and Friends: Transitions and Change.

Grasping the concept of time and understanding the need for transitions is difficult for children with autism. A strategy that parents and teachers can use at home and school to help children prepare for upcoming activities is called priming.

Priming involves going over the activity or information with the child before he or she participates in the activity. There are three different parts to priming:

  • It should be done before the activity.
  • The situation should be a simple task.
  • It incorporates frequent reinforcement opportunities.

Priming is inexpensive and time-efficient. The same materials should be used in priming that will be used for the task. When this isn’t appropriate, try using visual supports such as picture steps to an activity or a daily schedule chart.

Some examples of priming include:

  • Looking at a worksheet or book
  • Previewing a test
  • Showing a finished product or a work sample
  • Watching a video
  • Practicing with new art supplies or technology
  • Going over a visual schedule

The goal of priming is to help children with autism to grow more familiar and comfortable with an activity. “It is important to note that priming is not teaching, correcting, or testing.” (Texas Statewide Leadership for Autism)

By paying attention to where the most problematic behavior is exhibited, you can choose what information to use priming with. For example, look at the areas at school where a child has difficulty paying attention, or a recurring theme at home where a child isn’t able to transition well.

Marvel and Friends: Transitions and Change is a DVD that offers video priming for a variety of everyday situations a child will encounter at school and home. Visual supports, animated characters, and young children model each transition and give simple reinforcement.

Priming will help children adapt to new learning situations, cope with new tasks and develop new skills, interact with adults and peers, and manage daily transitions. For more information, see “The Use of Video Priming to Reduce Disruptive Transition Behavior in Children with Autism.”