Using Priming to Prevent Meltdowns

2 minutes
kids reading a book

Priming is a preventative strategy, also called an antecedent strategy, used in ABA that provides a preview of a future task or activity. You provide the learner with the relevant information they’ll need to set them up for success. This reduces surprises and stress that arises due to the unknown. You can utilize books, videos, and social stories for priming as well. Let’s go over some examples of how I’ve used priming with students and my own children.

Priming a learner for a procedure: I was taking my daughter, age 8, to the orthodontist for the first time to get braces and a pallet expander. We reviewed various aspects of this process so she would be prepared there was going to be pressure, gloves going in and out of her mouth, the ability to choose different colored rubber bands, the need to clean/floss differently and more intensely, and the fact she’ll miss some school and be treated to ice cream for a sore mouth. While my daughter handled this situation well, if you anticipate your learner being anxious or nervous about the procedure, go over coping strategies *before* going. They will know what to expect and ways to handle it.

Priming used for an everyday trip to the store: Taking your children to the grocery store? Let them know what to expect. Will they walk or ride in the cart? Will they have a say in what you’re purchasing? If so, let them know the relevant information — sweet treats, something for dinner, etc. Try making a list with words or pictures if they cannot read. Let them know what to expect. This helps prevent meltdowns.

Priming for toilet training: Many learners may be fearful of using the toilet. Thankfully, there are a lot of toilet-friendly videos and songs that preview the process, in a fun cartoon version, of course. For example, Daniel Tiger and Elmo have a video reviewing the toileting process. This allows the learner to see the process completed and keeps things fun, yet predictable. Video priming is a fun, engaging way to prepare your learner to use the toilet.

Here are a couple of those links:

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