Evidence-Based Activities for Spatial Concepts

I've recently been working with a client who struggles to understand spatial concepts and follow spatial directions, such as "Place the toy on top," or "Point to the toy behind the box." Working as a remote therapist, a lot of the materials I have are initially available on a two-dimensional screen and can involve a lot of pictures, but that's not always the best resource for working with concepts such as In, On, Between, or In Front. Instead, I've found two research-backed spatial programs to help teach and explore spatial concepts in a fun, evidence-based way in teletherapy.

The first involves multiple models of negatives and requires a few simple materials: a shoebox or other container that can open, and a toy small enough to fit inside or hide behind the box. The clinician or parent then takes three turns telling the child where the toy is NOT as he or she places it in various locations. As the teletherapist on the screen, I provide support and visual models. If the target concept is "Behind," the clinician or parent may place the toy in, on, and under the box, each time saying, "The toy is NOT behind the box here." On the fourth turn, the clinician or parents asks, "Where is it?" and places the toy in the target location. This has been very fun and successful in sessions. Other steps can then include asking the child to place the toy in the target location in further turns.

Drawing can also be an invaluable resource in working with spatial concepts. Another evidence-based practice asks clinicians to draw an empty shape on paper or a whiteboard. The clinician then asks the child to draw circles at target locations using that shape: "Inside a square," or "Beside a circle." The clinician can also use this shape and draw others to ask questions about specific features after giving directions: "Where is ___?" This activity is both hands-on and loaded with possibilities.

There are several other activities and programs that target spatial concepts, but I've found these to be easy to incorporate and they target multiple levels of complexity as needed through teletherapy. If you have questions about working with spatial concepts or other language goals, talk with a Sidekick therapist today!

Paul Rice, M.S., CCC-SLP


Hicks, C.S., Rivera, CJ., & Wood, C.L. (2015) Using direct instruction: Teaching preposition use to students with intellectual disability.Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 46194-206.