The Concept of Spotlighting

The following article was written by Zoe Thompson 

Bright Futures School (BFS) is a special independent school for children with autism in Oldham in the North West of England (near Manchester, for those not familiar with the UK).

We currently have 7 students and 8 staff, so are able to provide a good ratio of 1-1 support.

At BFS we use guiding to help our students work on the difficulties at the heart of autism.

Our guiding methodology is heavily influenced by RDI®.

At a recent staff training, our Head of Development focused on the concept of ‘spotlighting’ and how to use this effectively as a Guide.

We looked at:

Why we spotlight – to make something stand out from something else.

We remembered that in guiding we do this to help form episodic memories of competence and success, because it is these memories that lead to resilience.

We discussed how we usually spotlight the uncertainty/challenge or ‘just noticeable difference’ (JND) and then spotlight the resolution.

JNDs are a way of altering the pattern so that there is a small contrast e.g. colour or size of balloons you are playing with; pace of rolling a ball back and forth.

How to Spotlight

We slow down to amplify the moment of  ‘productive uncertainty,’ which in turn creates a spotlight in which an authentic decision needs to be made.

The aim is to encode a memory of being a competent decision maker.

In essence you create a boundary around a critical moment to make it stand out from the rest of the activity.


  • Talk in a fluid manner and then suddenly pause
  • Talk in a clear loud voice then at a critical moment whisper
  • Move quickly towards someone then at a critical moment go into slow motion
  • Feign incompetence (spotlights the challenge that the Guide is having, which the student can then help to resolve/repair)


As a staff team, we are now trying to be more mindful about spotlighting, especially during unstructured times such as break times.

We have introduced ‘spotlighter of the week’ as a fun way of remembering to spotlight – so when a member of staff uses a good natural spotlight, a colleague who witnesses it will make a note that goes into the spotlighter of the week box.

At the end of the week, the staff member with the most notes will get a prize.


Zoe Thompson (BA Hons – Social Policy and Administration) is Head of Development at Bright Futures School in the UK, with responsibilities for staff training, the personal development curriculum, liaison with parents and outside agencies. She has a background in health education.


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