Navigate Life Texas: Resources for kids with disabilities and special needs

Navigate Life Texas: Resources for kids with disabilities and special needs

Using Environmental Cues

07/28/2016 | Published by: Kelly Mastin

At a recent conference, I learned a new concept that I’ve never thought about: environmental cues.

We use environmental cues all the time. The traffic light turns red, we use the brake to stop the car. We get something on our hands, we wash them. The doorbell rings, and someone in the family goes to the front door.

Most of us are constantly responding to environmental cues without a second thought. It’s how we do what needs to be done. Some clues are taught and some we learned on our own, but not everyone is aware of environmental cues.

Some people may not recognize an environmental cue. They may not even notice it, such as stepping over something all day and not realizing it doesn’t belong there. Some people need to be taught to notice environmental cues and to respond to them.

When working with your child on learning to recognize environmental cues, it’s important to draw attention to the cue as well as the task it points to.

  • “The trash can is full of trash.”
  • “The phone is ringing.”
  • “She asked a question.”
  • “Your book fell off your desk.”

For some children, pointing out the environmental cue is all it will take for them to start the task on their own. The hope is that pointing out the cues will teach them to notice the cues and act on them correctly and independently. But it may take time.

Others will need more guidance when pointing out environmental cues. If your child needs more help, it is important to point out the cue and ask a question. Sometimes, the question will spur the person to action by helping them remember the cue’s task.

  • “The trash can is full of trash. What should we do?”
  • “Everyone is getting out their supplies. What should you do?”
  • “The bell just rang. What should we do?”
  • “Your hands are sticky. What should you do?”
  • “You spilled your milk. What should we do?”

Again, using this technique will often lead the child to notice cues and act on them. When using this strategy, be sure your child knows how to respond to the environmental cue. You may need to train them to do the skill––e.g., emptying the trash, taking out art supplies, cleaning up spilled milk.

In the long run, teaching children who have disabilities to notice environmental cues will lead them to more independence in their everyday life.

For more techniques, visit the BBB Autism Online Support Network website.

You can find other parenting tips on this website at the Navigating Daily Life page. 


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