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Getting Your Child with ASD to Obey: The "Silent 30 Count"

When it comes to getting "typical" children to do what they're told, “3” seems to be the magic number in most cases. The success of your own mother or father in telling you when you were a kid “you’ve got until the count of 3 to hop to” may make you assume that if your child doesn't get moving in a similar time-frame, he’s being defiant.

But for kids with ASD level 1 [High-Functioning Autism], three may not be a very realistic number. Think about what you're asking your youngster to do when you give an order and start counting. He has to (a) decipher what it is you want done, (b) think about how to do it, and (c) try to do it – quickly. Can your youngster accomplish these 3 steps in 3 seconds? Don't be too quick to say “sure he can!”

Consider these possible challenges:
  • Stress management: Some kids on the autism spectrum find deadlines energizing, but others can become paralyzed by them. Anxiety caused by “deadline pressure” can take over your youngster and cause her to be unable to focus on the task at hand. Then, since she’s not doing what you want fast enough, you may become even more impatient, thus paralyzing her even more.
  • Motor planning: For some of these special needs kids, contemplating how to physically do something (even something as obvious as stopping what they're already doing) can be a multi-step process. Planning and sequencing that activity may be a bigger job than a count of 3 will allow.
  • Frustration tolerance: If your youngster seems unable to obey for some reason, it may seem easier to just issue a consequence than to do what's called for. A count of 3 gives your youngster very little time to work through other possibilities.
  • Auditory processing: If he or she has trouble processing language, it may take more than a count of 3 for him to figure out what you want done, much less how to accomplish it.

If any of these are issues for your youngster, you may find you will have more success if you do two very important things:
  1. extend that “3 count” to a “30 count” (i.e., 30 seconds)
  2. count silently (under your breath)

Counting to 30 gives your youngster adequate time to (a) process your request or ask for clarification, (b) transition from what he is doing to a different activity, and (c) deal with frustration without becoming overly anxious. Counting to yourself (rather than out loud) helps him or her to be able to focus on the task at hand rather than on your "distracting" voice.

You may find that your youngster sometimes needs less than 30, at which point you can provide praise and encouragement. But if your “silent 30 count” is reached and the behavior hasn't changed, you can then issue a consequence.

Alternative to the “silent 30 count”:

Depending on the situation, you may want to opt for the “0 count” method (that’s right …the ‘zero’ count method). How does that work, you ask?

When requesting your child to follow your directions, you can allow him to decide when he will comply. Let’s use “doing chores” as an example:

The parent asks her child to clean his room before he takes-off over to a friend’s house. Five minutes later, the child declares that he is finished and starts to leave. Upon quick inspection, mom notices that his room is still a mess. So she says, “Hey …before you leave, I need to tell you something. Your chore isn’t done yet. Take as much time as you need, but you can’t leave until your room is cleaned-up.”

Statements like “take as much time as you need” are powerful in helping the child understand that his behavior determines when he may have the things he wants (in this case, the privilege of spending time with a friend).

Giving your youngster more time to do what you ask may seem like a sign of weakness on your part, but if you have reason to believe that she can't comply in short order, it's not only compassionate - but sensible - to extend the deadline. Your goal, after all, is to have your directions followed. In the end, it's far more time efficient to spend 30 seconds and get what you want, than to spend hours seeing to it that your child follows through with the consequence for non-compliance.

Anonymous said...This is a hard one for me since the counting method is my old standby My son tells me "Don't count Mom unless you're doing math!" I will try the Silent 30 count see if it helps

Anonymous said...I do the back counting method and it works better with my kid.

Anonymous said... THANK YOU for your website! It is the only one I recommend over and over. I have searched and searched for information and help with raising our daughter with Asperger's and your site has been the one that I've subscribed to. The information is well researched and very insightful and most importantly, it works!

Anonymous said... I usually count to 5. It usually works. It doesn't work when my son is angry. I usually have to let him finish being angry, then I can get him do what do is requested.

Anonymous said... i have found that to be very frustrating as at 3 my 10 yr old still doesnt do as asked so he starts a half hr - hr screeming fit that me or partner cant control does anybody else have child like that how do u deal with them any help/ tips would be much appreciated .....

Anonymous said...we have had that problem in the past with our 7 yr old. Breaking the meltdowns was very difficult not that he never has one but they are few and far between now. I will say for us we had to watch our tone ( I especially tend to yell and get stressed & frustrated which just agitates him) when he starts losing it I tell him I cannot understand him and refuse to talk to him until he is calm. I think that appeals to his rational side the most. He still gets mad and cries but it brings the volume down. If he is REALLLY out of control I hold him against me and whisper to him to do his breathing until he calms down. Right now I am trying to work on a system of earning things like TV & video game time with him. That is one of our major issues because he doesn't want to turn things off to do homework or eat dinner etc. Trying to make it more of a routine for him so he knows ok my time is up I think will help.
Anonymous said...we do the holding and the talking to him as we do find that helps..... sometimes and the working towards ds time or tv etc but when he doesnt seem to calm down and help with things asked of him he turns violent and starts smashing things or slamming/kicking doors. I feel like we r fighting a loosing battle :-(
Frank L. Ludwig said...As someone who grew up without being diagnosed, I distincly remember that the best (if not the only) way to break my defiance was a plausible explanation why I was supposed to do (or not to do) something.

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