Following Directions

Following Directions

Why can’t my child follow even one direction?

“I ask my child to go upstairs and get his shoes and he can’t even do that without several reminders.” This is a common complaint stated by client after client when they walk through our clinic door. Today during a consultation one parent relayed that even asking his son to simply set the table would lead to a table being only partially set, because his child would not remember what needed to be done even for that simple task. The child is almost 11 years old.

Teachers and parents are often extremely frustrated when they take the time and energy to give specific directions and the child responds with “Huh?” Often these students are not visualizing enough or at all. Visualizing or picturing each direction in the mind’s eye or imagination is imperative for a student to correctly follow directions.

Many of my high school students have been unable to hold or even obtain jobs because they were not able to visualize the directions stated by the boss. This resulted in them not be hired, or worse, being fired. Being able to remember and follow directions is an important skill for educational and occupational success. In our clinic, I practice visualizing three and then four part commands with students, as many people begin to have issues when more than four directions are given. To easily function in society, however, one must be able to follow up to four part commands.

In our clinic, I have students look slightly upward to access the visual cortex of the brain and visualize each direction I am asking them to complete. After they visualize all of the directions, I then ask them to physically perform them. We use silly and fun directions, even with older students, so the task is more enjoyable. I pause between directions to give students time to visualize each step. After students correctly visualize three part commands with 90% accuracy, I move to having them picture four part commands until 90% accuracy is achieved.

Keep in mind that it often takes 6 to 9 months to make visualization skills a habit. Parents sometimes think they can simply tell their children to visualize and it will automatically or quickly happen. This is not the case. Practice must be consistent, even if only for 5 minutes three times a week. It is also important to cue children to look up and picture before you give them directions to follow at home, such as getting their pajamas on and brushing their teeth. With teens it may be prior to asking them to take out the garbage and do the dishes. With patience and practice this simple process of picturing will become a habit that will serve your child or teen well for years to come.

Practice pages and detailed instructions for teaching students to visualize while following directions are available in my ebook Beyond Tutoring: Strategies to Improve Reading, Spelling, Comprehension and Memory.