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Priming & Frontloading are absolutely essential skills to master

Every night you look at your calendar or planner to see what you are doing the following day. When the day arrives, you schedule time to look at your calendar or planner again, just to make sure you are confident in knowing what you will be doing.

What are you doing? You are priming yourself – preparing for upcoming activities. Is this essential for you? Absolutely! If you do not prime yourself, you may feel uncertain, anxious, or you may forget what you are supposed to do. Does your neurology demand that you do this? No. The neurotypical neurology easily adjusts to not knowing what comes next.

What about the autistic person? Keeping in mind that the autistic neurology only works well when autistics know the plan or when they know what to do. The autistic neurology does not function optimally in the face of uncertainty with many autistics experiencing stress and anxiety. This impacts all facets of life, including school.

When stressed or anxious, students experience difficulty attending and learning. How do we help reduce stress and anxiety in autistic students? We purposely do what neurotypicals automatically do – we prepare or prime autistics for activities and tasks.

Given an opportunity to preview activities before they will occur, the student is often less likely to experience anxiety and stress about what lies ahead. With anxiety and stress minimized, the student can focus effort on successfully completing assignments and other activities (Tanucci & Wang, 2022).

Priming, which can occur at school or home, is strictly a preview of activities and an overview of assignments or schedule changes. It is not teaching. A paraprofessional can prime a student for calculus even if the para does understand calculus. A parent can prime their child for horseback riding lessons without knowing how to ride a horse. Specifically, the student/child is shown the actual materials that will be used in activity.

Actual materials could include a worksheet, outline for a group project, and materials that will be used in the activity (Wilde, Koegel, & Koegel, 1992).

Priming should occur close to when the target activity will occur. Priming may take place the day before an activity, the morning of the activity, the class period before, or even at the beginning of the class period during which the activity will be completed. Some students can be primed for an entire day. Others may need to be primed for the morning activities in the morning and the afternoon activities in the afternoon.  Still others need to be primed before each activity. Priming can occur at home or in school. It should occur in short, concise time periods in an environment that is relaxing for the autistic student (Gengoux, 2015).

If you think that priming could be beneficial, it is essential to plan how it will occur. The following questions should be considered if you are planning to use priming:

  • Who will prime? It is important to determine up front who is going to prime and what activities/lessons will be involved in priming: resource room teacher, general educator, a parent, a paraprofessional, or an older student.

  • Will the student be primed one-on-one or in a small group setting?

  • Who will prepare the priming materials?

  • Where and when can the primer access the priming materials?

  • Where will priming occur?

  • How will the primer notify the teacher that the priming has occurred?

  • How will the primer and teacher handle last minute changes in the activities/lessons?

  • Is a data collection form needed to track intervention effectiveness?

  • How will it be determined that priming is an effective strategy?

  • How will problems be addressed?

  • Is a meeting needed to overview how priming is proceeding?


Once planning has been completed, the primer is ready to prime. Priming guidelines include:

  1. Place priming on the daily visual schedule. If priming occurs more than once per day (i.e., priming in the morning for morning tasks and priming in the afternoon for afternoon tasks), it should be listed each time that it occurs.

  2. Gather the following materials: the daily visual schedule and actual books and worksheets that will be used for priming.

  3. Overview the priming entry on the daily visual schedule to help the student understand the purpose of priming.

  4. Share the following with the student for each activity: daily visual schedule entry, book(s) that will be used in the activity, and worksheets/other materials that will be used in the activity.

  5. Allow the student to explore the materials, especially if the student has not used them before. Materials to be explored may include: a new book, art supply, or a piece of science equipment.

  6. Complete the data collection sheet, if one is used. Share the data with the case manager making sure to note any behaviors of concern and successes.


Priming is a life skill – most of us use this strategy for ourselves to great benefit. Because it is such an important skill, it is essential that we prime autistic students and eventually teach them to prime themselves! Priming is a low-cost intervention – it requires minimal planning and can be implemented easily across settings. A small investment in priming can make a significant difference in the life of an autistic person.


Priming is not just a preparatory step; it is a fundamental approach to managing daily life and tasks, especially for those who thrive on structure and predictability.

As we explore priming further, the role of technology in enhancing and supporting these strategies becomes evident. Digital tools like calendars, visual schedule apps, and mapping services offer innovative ways to prime effectively, particularly for autistic individuals. These technological solutions not only aid in the priming process but also pave the way for developing independence in self-priming. The subsequent sections of this article will delve into how technology can be leveraged to support and enhance priming, ultimately leading to greater autonomy and confidence in managing one's daily life.


Building Independence in Self-Priming:

The ultimate goal is to support autistic individuals in becoming independent in their priming practices. Technology can play a pivotal role in this process.


Technology-Enhanced Priming Tools:

  1. Digital Calendars and Planners: Utilizing digital calendars allows for easy scheduling and reminders. These tools can be accessed on multiple devices, ensuring the individual always has access to their schedule. Features like notifications that can be enhanced with visuals, auditory and haptic alerts can remind the user about upcoming activities, reducing anxiety about missing or forgetting important events.

  • Apple Calendar: The built-in calendar app for iOS devices is known for its clean interface and seamless integration with other Apple services.

  • Google Calendar: Popular for its ease of use, cross-platform availability, and integration with other Google services like Gmail.

  • Fantastical: Known for its natural language event creation, beautiful interface, and powerful features like calendar sets.

  • Microsoft Outlook: Offers a robust calendar function as part of the larger email and productivity app, suitable for those who use Outlook for email.

Visual Schedule Apps: Apps designed for creating visual schedules can be particularly beneficial for autistic individuals who respond well to visual cues. These apps can display daily routines, task sequences, and transition prompts. The visual element helps in understanding and remembering the schedule more effectively.

  • Visual Schedule Planner: This app provides a customizable visual schedule, allowing users to create daily, weekly, or monthly schedules. Users can add custom images, audio feedback, and activity timers. Visual Schedule Planner can be instrumental in priming, particularly for individuals with autism or communication needs. By offering a clear, visual representation of the day's activities, it helps reduce anxiety about the unknown and makes transitions between tasks smoother. The custom images and audio cues can reinforce understanding and memory of the schedule.

  • Choiceworks: Choiceworks is designed to help children complete daily routines and manage feelings. It provides tools for creating visual schedules, waiting boards, and emotion boards. This app supports priming by helping children anticipate and prepare for upcoming activities and transitions. The visual schedules can be used to outline the sequence of daily events, aiding children in understanding what to expect next. The waiting boards and feeling boards are also useful in managing emotions and behaviors related to changes in routine. They provide a visual representation of the child's feelings and help them express themselves effectively.

Google Maps and Location-Based Services: For activities that involve going to new or unfamiliar locations, tools like Google Maps can provide a sense of security and preparedness. By previewing routes, locations, and even street views, individuals can familiarize themselves with new environments beforehand, reducing anxiety related to unknown places.

Customizable Reminder Systems: Using smartphones or smart home devices to set up custom reminders can help manage daily activities. These reminders can be set for various tasks throughout the day, aiding in time management and routine establishment.

  • Apple Reminders:This app is available on iOS devices. Apple Reminders can be used to set up a series of prompts throughout the day, helping individuals remember and prepare for different activities or responsibilities. The ability to set location-based reminders is especially useful for tasks that need to be completed in specific places, thereby aiding in environmental priming.

  • Todoist: Todoist is a task management app that allows for detailed to-do lists with customizable reminders, priority levels, and project categorization. In the context of priming, Todoist can help users anticipate and prepare for their tasks and responsibilities. Users can organize their tasks by time or category and receive reminders that help them stay on track.

Social Story Apps: These apps can create personalized social stories that help explain and prepare for social situations or changes in routine. This can be particularly useful for autistic individuals to understand and anticipate social dynamics and expectations.

  1. InnerVoice: InnerVoice is an innovative app that uses facial expressions and emotion in avatars to communicate social stories and messages. It leverages speech and language technology to create engaging, interactive experiences. InnerVoice can be particularly effective for priming as it adds an emotional and facial expression dimension to social stories, which can be crucial for understanding nuanced social interactions. Users can personalize avatars to mimic their own expressions and speech, making the experience more relatable. This helps prepare them for real-life social situations by providing a more holistic understanding of communication cues.

  1. Social Story Creator & Library: This app allows users to create and share custom social stories using text, images, and audio. It includes a library of pre-made stories covering a range of topics. By creating tailored social stories, this app helps users anticipate and understand social situations, routines, and expectations. These stories can be used to prime individuals for new experiences, changes in routine, or to rehearse appropriate social responses. The visual and auditory components make it easier for users to process and remember the information.

Use of AI Assistants: Voice-activated AI assistants like Google Assistant, InnerVoice, or Alexa can help in setting reminders, answering questions about the day's schedule, and providing weather updates, aiding in daily priming routines.

  • InnerVoice: InnerVoice not only uses facial expressions and emotions in avatars but also includes a chatbot AI function. This feature allows users to interact with the avatars through text or voice input, creating a more engaging and responsive communication experience. The chatbot AI function of InnerVoice is excellent for priming, especially for those who need support in social communication. Users can practice conversations and receive feedback in a safe, controlled environment, helping them prepare for real-world social interactions. The interactive nature of the chatbot helps build understanding and confidence in social communication skills.

  • Google Assistant: Google Assistant is a versatile voice-activated assistant that assists with a range of tasks, including setting reminders, answering questions, and controlling smart home devices. Google Assistant is useful for priming by setting reminders for upcoming activities and providing information on various topics. This helps users prepare for upcoming events or tasks, reducing anxiety about the unknown and aiding in smoother transitions between activities.

  • Amazon Alexa: Amazon Alexa is a voice-controlled AI assistant that can perform various functions, from managing schedules to providing updates on news and weather. Alexa can aid in priming by establishing routines and reminders, helping users to stay organized and prepared. The ability to ask Alexa for reminders about daily tasks and events facilitates mental preparedness and helps in anticipating upcoming activities.

In summary, priming is a vital yet often overlooked practice that plays a crucial role in preparing individuals, particularly those with autism, for their daily activities. This preparatory process, which involves reviewing schedules and familiarizing oneself with upcoming events, is essential for reducing anxiety and stress associated with uncertainty. While neurotypical individuals may adapt easily to changes without priming, for autistic individuals, it offers a sense of predictability and structure that is critical for their well-being. In educational and daily life settings, effective priming, especially when augmented with digital tools like calendars and visual schedule apps, not only helps in minimizing stress but also fosters independence and self-confidence, making it an indispensable strategy for individuals with autism. 



Gengoux, G. W. (2015). Priming for social activities: Effects on interactions between children with

autism and typically developing peers. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions17(3),



Tantucci, V., & Wang, A. (2023). Dialogic priming and dynamic resonance in autism: Creativity competing with engagement in Chinese children with ASD. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders53(6), 2458-2474.


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

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