Noncompliant Behavior in Children with Asperger's and HFA

The question of how to handle non-compliant kids on the autism spectrum is something most moms and dads have struggled with at one point or another. Non-compliance is a common problem for young people with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA), and takes many forms (e.g., testing the limits and your authority, exerting control over a situation, declaring independence, arguing with you or not doing something you asked – or doing it very slowly). 

Non-compliant behavior that persists for a prolonged period of time and interferes with your youngster’s performance at school and relationships with family and friends can be a sign of something more serious (e.g., ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder).

In some cases, what appears to be non-compliance may simply be a youngster who is preoccupied with his or her special interest (e.g., a computer game). Understanding what is behind your youngster’s behavior is an important part of addressing the problem of a son or daughter who seems to be defying you.

Below are 9 crucial interventions that parents can implement that are especially helpful for resolving non-compliance in AS and HFA children and teens:

1. Organizing the environment: This compliance technique encourages the AS or HFA youngster to do what is asked because the “response effort” is made easier. You can have a cooperative child in your home – it's just a matter of putting some simple techniques into practice, for example:
  • making use of organization products (totes, foldable drawer organizer, cap racks, etc.)
  • making sure the child’s bedroom has a trash can and hamper where they can be easily used
  • bundling an entire outfit with underwear, socks and everything so that it is very easy for the child to go to the closet and pick out what she should wear that day

2. Simplifying tasks so they are easy to understand: Rather than simply asking your youngster to do something in general (e.g., “Go clean your bedroom”), describe three specific tasks (yes, only three!) that would result in a cleaner bedroom (e.g., “Put these papers in the trash, put these clothes in the hamper, and make your bed”). Be very concrete and specific!

3. Creating a picture schedule for your youngster to view each day: Arrange laminated pictures of certain tasks on a Velcro strip. Go over the schedule at night before bed explaining what will happen the next day, again in the morning, and then continue to cross or check off each item as it is completed (you may want to include some fun things to do, too). Here's an example:

Picture Schedule for "Bedtime"
(smiley faces indicate task completion)

4. Making sure when a request is made that you follow through with your youngster: If you are always making requests that don't get completed, then your youngster learns that what you are asking is not important – so why do it. An example of “following through” would be a scenario where you facilitate a request for your non-compliant youngster to pick up his toys by handing him the toys and telling him where they need to go (while giving a lot of praise as he complies).

==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Asperger's and HFA Children

5. Giving a 7-minute “heads-up”: This compliance tactic is one that works as a great transition technique. If you let your youngster know that in 7 minutes you want a certain task completed, this gives her time to finish what she is doing and provides some time to process the request.

6. Providing fun activities that occur after frequently refused tasks: By arranging the day so that tasks often refused occur right before preferred activities, you may be able to eliminate non-compliant behavior and motivate your youngster to honor your request (e.g., “After you complete your homework, it will be time for you to get on the computer and play your favorite video game”).

7. Establishing an ongoing, consistent routine: Developing a routine helps your AS or HFA youngster to know what to expect and increases the chances that she will comply with completing tasks like chores, homework, personal hygiene, etc. When undesirable tasks occur in the same order at prime times during the day, they become habits that are usually not questioned and done without thought. Kids think about what they plan to do that day and expect to be able to do what they want. So, when a parent comes along and asks them to do something they weren’t already planning to do that day, this often results in automatic refusals and other non-compliant behavior. But, by establishing a consistent routine and keeping it in place over time, the youngster expects to complete formally undesirable tasks almost every day in the same general order.

8. Provide acknowledgement and praise when your child cooperates: When you acknowledge and praise your youngster’s compliance, you are providing positive attention, which is a great reinforcer for appropriate behavior. For example, “I noticed you put your dirty dishes in the sink without me having to ask (acknowledgment) …that’s you being responsible (praise).” When you do this consistently, your youngster will be more likely to repeat that particular behavior in the future.

==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Asperger's and HFA Children

We’ve saved the best for last…

9. Creating a social story: A social story can be created by a parent or teacher, and is specific to the youngster and the particular situation he is having trouble with. Here’s how to create social stories:
  • Start by identifying the behavior you are trying to address. For instance, your youngster may become very frustrated and angry when confronted with a minor problem (e.g., inability to tie his shoe). Monitor your youngster's behavior and document the frequency of instances where he reacts inappropriately to the shoe tying. The social story must reflect the shoe incident specifically in order to have the best impact on your youngster (he may not make the connection that his behavior should be modified when dealing with an untied shoe if the social story is about how to react to loud noises, for example).
  • Once the behavior is evaluated, write a series of sentences that are age-appropriate and serve the following purposes: (a) a descriptive sentence explains the situation or environment where the problem is occurring (e.g., "Every morning, I need to put on my shoes and tie them"); (b) a perspective sentence gives the perspective of the youngster or others on the situation (e.g., "When I can’t tie my shoes, I get upset"); and (c) a directive sentence gives the youngster specific instructions on what to do or not do (e.g., "When I get upset because I can’t tie my shoes, I need to get up and ask my mother for help"). Feel free to include additional sentences to clarify the point (e.g., another perspective sentence that says, "It makes my mom unhappy when I yell instead of asking her for help”).
  • Now that you have your social story sentences laid out, go ahead and make the book. You can create you social story in book form by folding pages to make a booklet. Include one page for every sentence. Print each sentence on the top of the page. Include pictures to help your youngster better understand what the words are saying, making sure the pictures are specific to your youngster.

Below is an example of a social story about "being dependable." The goal of the story is to get the child to try to do what he is asked, control his feelings, and ask for help if needed:

“Sometimes I am asked to do things that I don't want to do. Everyone has to do things they don't want to do sometimes. This is what it means to be a dependable person. It may not be fun, but everyone has to do things they don't like to do.

Sometimes my mother has to cook dinner when she doesn't want to. This is her job. Sometimes my father has to go to work when he doesn’t want to. This is his job. Sometimes I have to do homework that I don't want to. This is my job. Even though I don't want to do my homework, it is usually best to be dependable and do what is asked. Everyone has to do things they don't like to do some of the time. This is what it means to be dependable.

When it is time to do something that I don't want to do, I may feel like doing something else instead. It sometimes makes me feel angry when I have to do something that I don't like to do. Even though I feel angry, I need to remember that if I just go ahead and do the thing I don’t want to do, it will make everything better in the end. My parents will be happy that I did my best even when it was something I did not want to do.”

All kids are non-compliant from time to time, particularly when upset, hungry, tired or stressed. They may talk back, argue and disobey moms and dads. But, openly hostile behavior becomes a serious concern when it is so frequent and consistent that it stands out when compared with other kids of the same age. When non-compliant behavior affects your youngster’s social, family and academic life – it’s time to utilize the steps listed above in a highly committed way.

==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Asperger's and HFA Children

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