Before you can learn a new skill, you must first “learn to learn”. If you have ever found yourself wondering why a student is not yet participating in circle time, or does not seem to follow directions, or has difficulty transitioning with a picture schedule, we must first look at basic learner skills. Over the next few weeks, I will be taking a deeper dive into these incredible basic skills that set the foundation for later academic success. Skills such as visual performance, motor imitation, labeling, play and leisure skills and social interaction skills are a part of the basic learner skill set. If these skills are not yet mastered or practice, the student may struggle with academia-based and routine goals. Picture this: Kendra is a prekindergarten student. Her teachers report that she does not follow directions like “sit down” or “put your folder in the tub”. She dumps or throws toys during center time, does not seem interested in playing and does not clean up. When it’s time for work with teacher, Kendra has difficulty approaching the table, sitting down for longer than 30 seconds and completing a picture match activity is nearly impossible without complete physical prompting. Both Kendra and her teachers are frustrated because besides typical four-year-old behaviors, most of the kids in her class can follow the directions. So, what types of skills is Kendra missing? You guessed it! Basic learner skills!
Visual Performance Skills
Visual performance might be one of my favorite basic learner skills to work on. It opens the door to more critical skills such as cooperative responding to verbal instructions, work stamina and fine motor skills. The Assessment of Basic Learner and Language Skills (ABLLS) is a phenomenal assessment, curriculum guide, and skills tracking system that targets basic learner skills and academic concepts. When you work on mastering these skills, you likely see a huge increase in overall positive classroom behaviors and skill increase. Lucky for you, Sasha has literally taken the ABLLS skills and created curriculum and other tasks and products. My goal as a teacher and now in-home Infants and Toddlers specialist is to take those same skills and present them in additional functional ways for families. So, what does that look like? Let’s check out B3-B7 on the ABLLS to break those functional skills down!
Matching identical objects to sample (B3)
You want to know if your student or child can match objects to an identical object when presented in an array of three items. This may sound like a very simple skill; however, many younger children are missing this one. When practicing this skill at home, parents can see what toys/objects they may have two of. Maybe it’s a McDonald’s toy, a favorite plastic kid cup, and a spoon. The Dollar Tree is an inexpensive place to snag some toys or functional objects. I love the party section because they always have fun items in packs of 6. I also always suggest trying to use objects (and later pictures) that are reinforcing to the child. Maybe your child loves animals…do you have any of those in your home? When teaching any of these concepts, you always want to model first what you mean. Simply saying “Ok match the horse” is not enough because your student or child may not have that large of a vocabulary yet or be able to follow simple commands. You can start with a two-object array field (say a cookie and a horse), hand your child the horse and say, “horse” as you match it to the horse in the array. Increase the array of choices as your child becomes more fluent with this skill.
Matching objects to pictures (B4)
Matching objects to pictures are actually formally assessed on developmental assessments like the DAYC-2 (Developmental Assessment of Young Children-2). Skills in the classroom that come from here might be cleaning up toys by matching objects to a basket with a visual, matching object and eventually picture schedule pieces to areas in the room and so much more! While you want to begin with identical objects and pictures, there’s nothing wrong with matching objects to a story while reading to extend fun, language, and learning! For this skill, I suggest that families and teachers take pictures of preferred objects within the home or classroom. Many photo places like Walgreens always have a coupon and you can have them printed off in 4X6 for a few cents a picture! This is especially helpful when families are limited on time and supplies.
Match identical pictures to sample (B5)
When given a picture, can your student match a picture to an identical picture (usually in an array of 3)? Think about what skills this leads up to. Those worksheets that Kendra was having difficulty with? Right here. This skill was not well developed. Visual discrimination between items is a skill that must be taught! Matching must be taught. Some kiddos develop these skills naturally and after seeing one model and some kiddos need more direct instruction. These types of skills also teach visual scanning or items, attention to task, motor planning, wow so much right? When parents are ordering those pictures or buying a box of picture flashcards from the dollar tree, I suggest making two copies or buy two of the same picture flashcard sets. Thanks to The Autism Helper, if you want to practice this skill virtually, the ABLLS tasks cards for this section have been turned into a digital form! You can find them here.
Matching pictures to objects (B6)
The last section of visual performance I will touch on is matching pictures to objects. You can use the same materials you used in B4 and just reverse the activity! After your student master these skills (specific criteria in the ABLLS manual), you can continue moving on to fluent matching with pictures and then completing these activities with non-identical sorting! Check out my video below previewing all of the activities in action! Happy skill building!