Tip of the Week: Scanning – Best Teaching Practices

Scanning is one of the first skills we teach learners with autism. This skill, (looking at each item presented and using that information to make decisions,) is essential for almost every other skill we teach children in early childhood. Historically, we have taught scanning skills through matching and listener responding activities by lining up 3 pictures or objects, then having the learner choose the correct match out of the three items or point to the item we have named. However, this is not representative of the way scanning skills are used in the natural environment.

Toddler boy reaching for carrots in grocery storeConsider how you use scanning in your own life: searching a row of books on a shelf to find a particular title, trying to find your favorite tomato soup in a supermarket aisle filled with soups, or looking through a box of Legos for one blue square Lego to complete a structure. None of the ways we scan in the natural environment present materials in a field of 3 neatly lined-up items.

There are steps you should take in order to help prepare your learner for scanning in the natural environment. When working on matching items or identifying items, you should quickly reduce prompts (as discussed in this previous post) and increase the difficulty of scanning. There are two ways to do this: (1) increase the number of items in the field and (2) make the array of items messy.

If we take a look at matching, here is a sample of the steps for a matching program you might use to help teach the skill:

  1. Match an object to 1 of 3 objects placed on the table
  2. Match an object to 1 of 5 objects placed on the table
  3. Match an object to 1 of 5 objects placed in a messy array on the table
  4. Match an object to 1 of 8 objects placed in a messy array on the table
  5. Match an object to 1 of 10 objects placed in a messy array on the table
  6. Match an object to 1 of 5 objects with similar but non-matching items in the messy array (example: you’re trying to match a red car, in the array there will be a red car as well as a blue car and a red truck.)
  7. Match an object to 1 of 8 objects with similar but non-matching items in the messy array

As the learner masters each step, he/she is getting closer to what that skill looks like in the natural environment. Lastly, here are a few examples of how children use scanning in the natural environment. These can be used to practice the skill in ways that are motivating to your individual learner:

  • searching for all the pieces to a costume for dress up play
  • finding a specific piece to complete a puzzle or block structure
  • looking for his/her favorite candy or snack at the supermarket
  • finding a specified item in a picture (for example, if I have a learner that loves Elmo, I’ll find many pictues with Elmo shown and have the learner point him out)
  • retrieving shoes from a shelf or closet
  • picking out a nail polish color
  • choosing their favorite tv show from a DVR or computer menu
  • playing “I Spy”
  • finding the right tool from a messy utensil drawer for a cooking activity
  • retreiving his/her favorite train from a bucket of trains
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