My Child Seems Pre-Occupied with Irrelevant Details

Teaching Cue Selectivity

What does “cue” selectivity mean?  Cue selectivity is a term used within behavioral psychology and education. Cue is exactly that, a cue, or a “clue, a characteristic of a thing that provides information about the whole object. What provides relevant information about a pen? the shape or the shiny reflection off of the casing? A  bicycle wheel? the shiny reflections off of the spokes or the round shape?

One of the challenges many people with autism face, and people with weak central coherence, is attending to relevant information within the environment which could range from physical objects to people and their relationship or relative placement and purpose within the environment. For example, in looking at a pen on top of a desk the person may only look at or see the shiny reflection off the pen and not grasp the gestalt or the whole component of the pen, the shaft, the clicker top, the color.

Teaching cue selectivity begins by teaching the person to attend to a specific characteristic of an object, mastering the characteristic and gradually expanding or building other characteristics of the object that describe the object from a visual perspective, tactile perspective, and kinesthetic perspective and pair the cues with a verbal, written, or picture prompt – the communicative form that the child understands.  

This is also known as overselectivity, the inability to attend to multiple cues to understand the object at one time or as a whole. The person may understand the characteristics as isolated pieces of information and attach meaning to the information that only has meaning for them and not necessarily same meaning to others. The person with autism may recognize Mary by her glasses…when Mary does not wear her glasses, the person with an ASD may not recognize her at all.  Overselectivity diminishes the ability to see the “forest” for the trees.

Why does cue selectivity need to be taught? It is the multiple cues that provide a whole picture, like a completed puzzle. A puzzle piece out of context of the rest of the puzzle probably will not provide the entire picture the completed puzzle will create.

Cue Selectivity is taught to strengthen comprehension and the ability to interpret information, act upon or within the information, and participate meaningfully within the environment. Who can teach cue selectivity? Anyone, anywhere, anytime! More information on the topic of cue selectivity and central coherence will be available later.

About Mary

Hi! I have been providing services for children and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders, ages 3 through age 27, for twenty years. I also teach teachers and other professionals strategies and interventions to improve and develop communication skills, social understanding skills, and replacement of stereotypical behaviors. I try to create an awareness and empathic response with professionals working with families and caregivers living with the unique differences and challenges of ASD. My other goals include educating the public about ASD. ASD is a label that provides a common ground for discussing treatment, strategies, and other interventions to help the child or person. The label is not the child and vice-versa. Over the years I have observed many children develop communication skills, experience social success, and decrease and change stereotypical behavior into productivity. The children I work with are unique and wonderous. Like you and I they have specific interests and strengths that are valuable assets to their Quality of Life.
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