Matching is the ability to know when two items are the same, or distinguish when they are different. It is a basic attention task because it can be taught beginning from a very short duration, such as a few seconds, and then be built up in duration. 


Not only does Matching build attention, it is also a precursor to the concept of categorising. It is also a required skill for completing many everyday tasks, be it getting one’s bottle from the back of the classroom or finding a favourite cereal at the grocery stores. It is the matching of what one sees in their head to what is in the real world.

Breaking Down the Skill of Matching

Below is a list of levels of complexity of the skill of Matching, from easiest to hardest: 

  • 3D-3D 
  • 2D-2D
  • Colours 
  • Shapes
  • Shape and colour
  • Shape and size 
  • Shade 
  • Numbers 
  • Letters
  • 2D to 3D
  • 3D to 2D 
  • Mini pattern 
  • Words 
  • Non-identical objects
  • Upper to lower case letters 


3D-3D matching refers to matching two real-life objects that are identical, like a blue cup and blue cup. 3D-3D matching itself can be broken down further into nested items, which are easier to match, compared to non-nested items. 


3D-3D matching is usually easier because it is concrete, compared to 2D-2D matching,  in which one can also match two blue cups, but just pictures of them. To make the process easier, one can use pictures of the child’s preferred and familiar items, like ‘car’, ‘ball’ and ‘iPad’. 


2D-2D matching then progresses from objects to other concepts like Colours, Shapes, Letters and Numbers. More complex matching can take the form of Shape and Colour, which is to match shapes by their colour. Mini-pattern matching will then involve matching more than one shape in a single picture.


2D to 3D means to match a 2D picture to its identical 3D version and vice versa for 3D to 2D. A skill that is important for finding what we need in the real world, such as when in a supermarket. 


Non-identical objects is to match two objects that look different, but belong in the same category, such as matching a picture of a Husky and Beagle to each other, versus a Husky to a Siamese cat. This is usually the last step, and a precursor to the skill of Categorisation.

Why is Matching so complex?

The main purpose of Matching is to build attention – ensuring the child is still able to focus and attend although the demands on attention increase due to the complexity of the matching. 


It also should not be assumed that just because a child can do one type of matching, means they can do all types. Some children may be confident at one type of matching, like 2D-2D matching, but can struggle with other levels, like matching letters. Each level of matching are prerequisites to later skills. Letter matching for example, is a prerequisite to learning to read.


In other words, attention is a skill that takes time to build and is needed throughout life. Some children with autism may go through the levels of complexity quickly, while others will take weeks or even months to learn one level at a time. It is important to constantly test random levels to assess a child’s skills at matching, before beginning teaching.


We will include a free downloadable in our Autism at Home website article if you would like to download and print matching cards for all the 2D levels.

Materials You Will Need

This procedure will use 3D-3D level matching as an example when teaching Matching, but the method applies for all levels. 

  1. At least 5 pairs of identical objects for matching

Any common household objects will do.

Breaking the Skill of Matching Down

The skill of Matching is taught first by teaching the child to match one object, one at a time (1 field matching). The child is then taught to match an object in a field of 2 or 3 possible answers (2 and 3 field matching, respectively). This is to check the child can discriminate what they are looking at.

Teaching Procedure (1 field matching)

  1. Give the child the object they need to match.
  2. Say “Match.” This instruction is kept short initially so the child is able to recognise the instruction quickly.
  3. When the child matches the correct object, immediately verbally reinforce them by labelling the item, like saying “Cup!” Saying the name of the item  instead of just saying “Well done!” helps them learn the vocabulary at the same time.
  4. Repeat this procedure 2 to 3 times, and reinforce the child for a job well done at the end.

Teaching Procedure (2 or 3 field matching)

2- and 3-field includes mixing up the locations of the target objects, so the child does not learn to match to the same location each time.


  1. Lay out 3 fields, or possible answers, the child might match to, e.g., cup, bowl and fork. The child should have already learned how to match cup, bowl and fork each at 1 field matching.
  2. Give the child the object they need to match, e.g., cup, as the target item.
  3. Say “Match”.
  4. When the child matches the correct object, immediately verbally reinforce them by labelling the item, like saying “Cup!” 
  5. Mix up the locations of the cup, bowl and fork. Repeat Steps 2 – 5 four more times, targeting the other objects in between in this order: cup, bowl, cup, fork, cup. 
  6. Reinforce the child for a job well done at the end.

Progressing in Matching

As a child progresses through the matching levels, one can increase the difficulty level by not just the types of matching items, but the number of fields beyond 3 fields. Some children can match within a field of 12, 16 or even up to 30 items. This more advanced Matching is called Scanning.


The last, most important step of learning a new skill is Generalisation. Try applying Matching in the natural context:

  • Play a matching game together
  • If the child can hold a pencil, try doing matching Worksheets together
  • Doing a Look & Find book together, like ‘Where’s Waldo?’
  • Using a simple picture-based grocery list when going shopping, beginning with 3-5 items initially

Your Turn

  1. Some children already have the skill of Matching, so if you’re not sure if your child needs to learn this skill, try testing a few items out with them from the demonstrations in this lesson.
  2. If you have identified your child needs to learn Matching, teach each level of Matching in sequence, always being mindful they may need to learn them all, or only learn some. Download our free Matching stimuli kit to get started.
  3. Finally, generalise the skill of Matching by incorporating it into your daily activities with your child.