I Don't Know What To Do!

Posted by Kris Baker on 2/22/2019 7:00:00 AM

Have you ever heard the comment, “you don’t know what you don’t know?”  Well, the fact of the matter is this, when some kids don’t know what to do . . . they don’t know what to do!  For some students, when they are confused, missed an instruction, or do not understand either an activity, academic task, or social situation, they may not know what to do, how to ask for help, what words to use to get the help they need or what their options are when they don’t know what to do.  This can be particularly difficult for students with executive functioning deficits in focused attention, processing speed, working memory, or emotional regulation. Knowing what to do, when they don’t know what to do can often be misunderstood as non-compliance, willful disobedience and defiance.  It's a matter of “can’t do” instead of “won’t do!”

One way to help students when they are confused and don’t know what to do is to arm them with verbiage , statements and/or questions to help them get the assistance they need.    Using a script is an excellent resource to support students in this area. Wong, et. al, (2014) defines the Evidence Based Practice of Scripting, “A verbal and/or written description about a specific skill or situation that serves as a model for the learner. Scripts are usually practiced repeatedly before the skill is used in the actual situation.”  For our students, I highly recommend a visual script cueing the student to the language and coping skills needed when they are lost and don’t know what to do. The script needs to be pre-taught to the student, practiced and even modeled to ensure student understanding. I also highly encourage student use of the script to be paired with positive reinforcement.  Incorporating the student’s area of interest can increase interest and buy in to the script.

Here are some example scripts used with students:  

I Can Do It  

For some of the big transitions that students go through when changing buildings, we have even created supports for students that target “What do I do when . . . . “ to prompt the right question or response to new situations in their new settings.  For example, what do I do when I can’t get my locker open, what if I need a test read to me, what if I need a break? We give these resources to the students when they come for the tour of the new setting and so that have it the summer before the transition to help them adjust to the new setting.  

What do I do when

Scripts are excellent tools to equip students for difficult situations and help them get the help they need when they may not have the words or the confidence to ask for assistance.  


Wong, C., Odom, S. L., Hume, K. Cox, A. W., Fettig, A., Kucharczyk, S., … Schultz, T. R. (2013). Evidence-based practices for children, youth, and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, Autism Evidence-Based Practice Review Group


Kris Baker, Autism Consultant