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Priming: A Way to Introduce New Activities to Students with Autism

Priming is a strategy that we can use to help a student with autism prepare for upcoming activities. With priming, you're essentially "previewing" activities or information with a student before he or she participates in that activity. This helps make the activity more predictable and familiar to the student with autism. As an example, before teaching one of my science tutoring clients about magnets, I allowed him some time to play with the magnets and show him some fun things they could do. Details of how I set-up this activity are at the end of this post.

Here are some things to remember when priming:

  1. Use the same materials that the child will use for the activity (such as showing an example of a spelling test before he takes it or looking at a set of magnets before they're used in science class),

  2. Priming should be casual and relaxed. You don't really have to teach anything during a priming session. The goal is for the child to "get to know" the materials or the activity so that he or she will be familiar with them when it is time to do the activity.

  3. Priming should incorporate frequent opportunities for reinforcement. Make it fun for the student by providing praise and rewards for participating, as appropriate.

Here's an example of a priming activity I used before teaching one of my students about magnets. I do this series of play activities using magnets that I demonstrate for the student and let him or her do the activities (one at a time) before we start our magnet lessons. This priming activity and my magnet lessons are available in the free download linked below.

This image shows a series of play activities using magnets that I use for priming. This priming activity and my magnet lessons are available in the free download linked below.

To get the rest of the free magnet activities, click the image below.


Meet Dr. Caldwell

Hi! I'm Dr. Nicole Caldwell and I've been working with students on the autism spectrum for about 12 years. My background is in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and Montessori. I have a Master's degree and PhD in special education with an emphasis in autism, and I love what I do! I currently work with children with autism in their homes on social, communication, and academic skills. I specialize in:

•Teaching math to students with math difficulties or math anxiety,

•Teaching science and coding to children with autism, and

•Working on language and communication by embedding learning opportunities into your child’s favorite activities. I think of this as “play to learn.”

If you’re in the Dallas/Rockwall, Texas area and would like to learn more about working with me, please send me a message and we’ll set up a free initial consultation.

If you're outside of the Dallas/Rockwall area, I offer online instruction in middle and high school math, coding, and 3D modeling via video conferencing. Send me a message if you'd like more information or to set-up a free initial consultation (via video conferencing). Thank you!

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