Priming is an intervention that helps prepare children for an upcoming activity or event with which they normally have difficulty. Priming can occur at home or in the classroom and is most effective if it is built into the child’s routine.

How to Use

Priming sessions are short and concise, and typically involve using the actual materials that will be used in the lesson. It is not meant to teach the material. Instead, priming familiarizes the child with the material so he/she is comfortable with it and therefore more ready to learn.

Priming is an effective strategy for increasing success with a variety of tasks such as comprehending new material, interacting with others and reducing behavioral problems due to anxiety caused by environmental changes.

Priming is not meant to teach, only to familiarize!

Steps in Priming

Step One: Collaborate

Step Two: Communicate

Step Three: Prime

Step Four: Provide Feedback

When to Use

Does your child/student experience:

  • Difficulty adapting to new learning situations?

  • Difficulty with transitions?

  • Avoidance behaviors when presented with materials or tasks?

  • Difficulty interacting with adults and peers?

These are all situations where priming can be effective.  

Sample Activities

  • Exploring the material

  • Reading the story

  • Showing the visual schedule

  • Practicing with art supplies

  • Talking about and showing finished product

  • Playing the game

  • Watching a segment of the videotape or looking at the video jacket


Example: Bryan

Bryan has difficulty paying attention during circle time in preschool. He often disrupts other children, particularly when the teacher is reading the daily story. During a parent conference, Bryan’s teacher and mother decided to use priming at home to help reduce his off-task behavior in circle time.

Bryan’s teacher gave his mother the book they were going to read the next day in circle time. Bryan’s mother read the book to Bryan as part of his bedtime ritual that evening. She asked him general questions along the way, but did not interrupt the story. Bryan’s mother praised him when he sat and listened to the story. Through this process, Bryan became familiar with the pictures and the text in a comfortable setting.

Because Bryan had heard the story the night before and knew what to expect, he was able to focus on the book during circle time the following day. By being familiar with the book, Bryan attended to the story without disrupting the teacher or his peers.

Example: Jill

Jill is a five-year old child with autism, who is a kindergarten student in a general education classroom. Jill’s teacher has difficulty getting her to focus during one-on-one activities. Jill consistently moves away from the teacher when asked to participate. When the teacher tries to redirect her back to the activity, Jill screams and throws herself on the floor. For an upcoming activity consisting of matching colored blocks, Jill’s teacher decided to try priming to eliminate Jill’s avoidance behaviors by familiarizing her with the materials.

In preparation, the teacher met with Jill’s paraprofessional and gave her the blocks Jill would be using. She instructed the paraprofessional to familiarize Jill with the blocks but not to "teach" the concept of matching. Since Jill enjoys going to the "quiet room," this is where they decided the priming session would take place. The quiet room is a small room that children with special needs can go to when they need a less distracting environment to complete assignments. The paraprofessional remained relaxed and patient and continuously encouraged Jill as she stacked the blocks. Jill’s paraprofessional told Jill that she was going to learn to match the blocks in class the next day. The session was short and informal. Whenever Jill attempted to interact with the blocks, she was rewarded.

The next day during work time in the classroom, the teacher introduced the blocks that Jill had played with the day before to teach the concept of matching colors. Because Jill was familiar with the blocks, she was interested in what the teacher was doing with them. As a result, her avoidance behaviors were reduced, which enabled her to actively participate in the learning experience.

Summary (for parents, administrators, direct service providers, etc.)

Priming can help children and youth improve their academic and behavioral skills. This

intervention can be used in home, school, and community with children and adolescents with autism.




Bainbridge, N., & Myles, B. S. (1999). The use of priming to introduce toilet training to a child with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disorders, 14(2), 106-109.

Schreibman, L., Whalen, C., & Stahmer, A. (2000). The use of video priming to reduce disruptive transition behavior in children with autism. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 2(1), 3-11.

Taylor, B. A., Kevin, L., & Jasper, S. (1999). Increasing play-related statements in children with autism toward their siblings: effects of video modeling. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 11(3), 253-264.

Wilde, L. D., Koegel, L. K., & Koegel, R. L. (1992). Increasing success in school through priming: A training manual. Santa Barbara: University of California.  




Virtual Strategies Toolkit
TASN Autism and Tertiary Behavior Supports (ATBS)
Funded by KSDE Special Education and Title Services (SETS). Administered by the Pittsburg State University. Copyright © 2024. All Rights Reserved.