Kids on the Autism Spectrum Who Refuse to Cooperate with Parental Requests

"Any tricks for getting a very stubborn 4 year old high functioning autistic child to do what he is told. He truly has a mind of his own. For example, if our requests don't make sense to him, he refuses to do what we ask, which usually results in a mother-son tug of war."

One quick suggestion would be to use a  "token economy." This technique seems to work best for kids with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger's. It's a system where the child earns tokens as a reward for desired behaviors.

A predetermined number of tokens are then "cashed-in" for a privilege the child desires (e.g., a favorite snack, time for playing video games, etc.). A token economy is flexible and can be easily tailored to suit the individual needs - and desires - of the youngster.

Token economies that use money tokens seem to be the most successful with kids on the autism spectrum in increasing their ability to delay gratification, and lessening the risk of satiation (i.e., overuse of a reward that results in the child no longer viewing it as a reward). Using money in a token economy negates the need for the child to decode an abstract concept, because in the "real world," people are paid money for completing tasks in their place of employment.

These "special needs" children take a long time establishing trust, and for this reason, a token economy should initially focus on rewarding desired behaviors and actions. Once the program has been established for a number of years, you may then be able to introduce "response costs" where the child is fined for inappropriate behavior.

This correlates the token economy with real world experiences (e.g., if I drive too fast, I get a speeding ticket; if I park where I shouldn’t, I get a parking ticket). However, the focus of the program in the early stages must be on the positives, because HFA kids are prone to quickly losing their motivation and trust.

Be creative with the reinforcers offered as motivation. Offering a "menu of rewards" to choose from seems most successful. Initially, "cashed-in" rewards need to be fairly instant (e.g., at the end of each day). Over time, this can be stretched to the end of each week. As the child matures, this delayed gratification may be able to be stretched to a month; however, small rewards and motivators should be offered consistently along the way.

As with all strategies used with children on the spectrum, patience and perseverance are the keys to success when using a token economy, but the rewards for both the parent and child are awesome!

Here are more suggestions from parents who have "been there and done that":

•    After many meltdowns over laundry, he screamed "why do I have to do all of the laundry?!?." Later I explained that there are 2 of us and we each must contribute to keeping this house running, and this is something he is good at. Just like I am better at driving him around and keeping the bills paid.

•    Anonymous said... 4 can be a hard age w/out the spectrum issues. A visual chart of your expectations (show pictures of cleaning up, brushing teeth, eating dinner, and any other chores you want him to help with), you might include an area where he can make a check mark after the does it. Also, I find the more explaining you do, the worse it gets.

•    Anonymous said... Find a way for what you say, to make sense to him. They have exact balance of rationale, a type of logic not easily defeated by simple requests.

•    Anonymous said... Google Pathological Demand Avoidance - traditional ASD parenting doesn't work for it, you have to let go of EVERYTHING! The difference between being a doormat and creating a non-threatening environment full of aspirations not expectations and most importantly NOT taking it personally.

•    Anonymous said... I always try to visually "paint" the picture of the outcome or reward vs consequences of doing what is told regardless of if it is what the child wants to do. In other words... once the homework is done we can have play time. Knowing they are working toward a goal tends to help.

•    Anonymous said... I picked up a little trick recently that worked quite well with getting my 7 to wash his hair "show me how you wash your hair" works for cleaning, teeth brushing eating etc my 3 year old works under "big girls can do that" but my boy never cared about any of those statements, good luck

•    Anonymous said... Keep it simple and stick with it. Practice what you preach, you want your child to be patient, you must also show patience (point out the times where your practicing patience). You want your child to tidy his room, tidy your room too, make it a house rule, do it at the same time, see who can finish first, make it fun. If your son is arguing at times when it's important to follow the rules, be like a teacher and say it's not up for debate, it's a rule everyone must follow etc. Keeping consistent is key so don't switch up the rules, keep them simple, make a list, put some pictures by them, make it fun.

•    Anonymous said... My guy is much more compliant if he knows the logical reason behind the request. Though I'm not as good at recognizing the need.

•    Anonymous said... My son is now 11, so I'm trying to think back to when he was 4. We didn't know then that he had ADHD & Aspergers... we just knew things were very different with him. Anyway... he's been seeing a behavior therapist over the last year. We learned that our behavior also had to change if we wanted his to improve. For example, we must be consistent with our "demands" and with his schedule. Routine is important to teach expectations of everyday life -- and to teach compliance without a huge struggle. Also we learned that if we want him to do something, it works best if we plan it so the less rewarding or unfavorable things are done first; use the rewarding/more favorable activities as a motivator. The token system might work okay... but if you try to get them to give up their favorite activity in order to do something they don't want to do... a token at that point probably won't motivate them enough to try and earn it. Routines, limits, set expectations, motivators... I've learned they are all important if you want to lessen daily struggles.

•    Anonymous said... Part of it is because he's 4. Mix a new independent 4 year old and Aspergers and we have quite a mix! One thing I learned was that I needed to stop trying to explain everything (that goes against what "new" parenting advice says, doesn't it? Ha! But I won't get into that or my opinion of it). With Aspergers, they really have to learn "good habits" whether they understand them or not. They think alot differently than us. I fell back on "Who asked you to do that? (mom), So, you need to do it." End of topic. A visual of "because mom said so" made a BIG difference. (Just a picture of yourself and the repeated phrase until he knows when you hand him that picture you are NOT backing down and you don't have to say a word. If you need to remove him from the room because of a meltdown, etc...AS SOON as he is able to join you again give him the same instruction and don't back down with your requirement. They WILL learn it over it time. Teaching of the "why" we do certain things needs to be done through social stories and etc outside of the situation...not during the situation.

•    Anonymous said... Sounds just like my youngest. Unless he is given instant reward for something he isn't interested. Even then it doesn't always work. Very difficult to find rewards he likes as this changes frequently. As for explaining consequences (eg no playtime if task not done) he simply doesn't care. Hard to get them to do what you want when neither reward or consequence seem to bother Them!

*   Anonymous said... Try changing the subject so you divert him from that emotion, then as the motion subsides you may be able to come back to it from another angle where he will see your logic of the situation. At least when not emotional they see logic very well. Doesn't always work with my boy and I often forget to try it when I should as I also get a little emotional, but it often does work well.

•    Anonymous said... we went through PCIT (parent child interactive therapy), it is the ONLY thing that worked for us!! Now, my son listens, has follow-through, and he knows that discipline is time-out & Mommy is not afraid to use it!! ask your son's therapist about PCIT & if it's available through their facility. if not, get a referral to a facility that offers it.

•    Anonymous said...I say , don't you dare go and do x, y or z ...and my 4 year old goes and does it ! Reverse psychology. I say it in a cheerful way an it works 80% of the time

•    Anonymous said… First make sure he understands the direction. Next. Lots of notice and reminders of what your going to do.... And don't use TV shows as a reminder. The after this show gets.... Hairy. I used taped shows with no commercials (don't want something else getting in the Way). Mine just hated having something changed last minute (I mean like 60 minutes). He will grow up to adjust. Now you need to learn about him and his triggers.

•    Anonymous said… Give him time. Be patient and calm. Do not punish, but use natural consequences. Explain why you need something done. Make sure he understands what you are asking him to do. Check if he needs help with it. Be prepared to help him until he learns to do things on his own. Look past him being autistic because this part? Yeah, that's parenthood. It's not always easy. And those of us who are autistic are usually super logical but struggle to learn to do things like tie our shoes, understand the vague concept of what you call "time", and remember what you asked us to do after the first thing.

•    Anonymous said… I have found that my little guy is very logical in his own way, so if I can sit with him and explain why I need him to do it, and answer his many questions, he gets it and does the task. It doesn't work every time, and I can't do it every time, but the difference has been remarkable. I have to make it make sense to him first.

•    Anonymous said… I have to give random directives throughout the day just to get him in the compliance mode. Like.. Tyler could you hand me that pen? Please take this to your room. (Even if these things are not necessary at the time) it's a way to start a habit of compliance. Once the child does it you then praise the behavior. Visual reward charts working for something preferred work really well too. Like 25 reward checks in a week result in .... Whatever your child really likes" Hope this helps

•    Anonymous said… Oh my goodness, this could be *any* 4 yo boy! 4yos are notoriously difficult and boy get a "fun" little surge of testosterone at that age too. 4 has been my least favorite age with all of my kids, NT or not. wink emoticon remembering to "connect before I correct" was especially crucial at that age. Framing things as "let's work together to solve this problem" helped so much, instead of "do it my way not your way".

*   Anonymous said... I bought a simple chart at $ store for name, activity or non/action, and stars or stickers. It's labeled m-f. Good behavior gets a star or if teacher gives a sticker too(I got 1 out of 3 teachers to do this, ugh). If 5 earned they pick out of prize bag, (just dollar items or clearance, really cool stuff);or save 10 n go to Walmart,target,or Kmart for bigger prizes. It works on 3 out of 4 of my kids so its worth it and all 4 if the prize is right for that one other child.

•    Anonymous said… Rewards chart 
*   Anonymous said... Behaviour precedes articulation. Essentially we act out behaviours before we understand and can articulate them. Law for example is an articulation of what we already know is right or wrong. The problem we can experience is that when we ask for a certain type of behavior we instinctively know is right, when asked 'why' we can struggle to explain it. So the lesson here is anticipate the question and have a clear answer ready! 

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