What to do before and after telling your child with autism “No”

What to do before and after telling your child with autism ‘No’

What should happen before and after telling a child with autism ‘no’? Telling a child ‘no’ can be a difficult task for any parent or caregiver. The child may still be in the process of learning the concept of ‘no’. It’s possible that it hasn’t been enforced consistently in the past, resulting in a lack of understanding on the child’s part. Additionally, the child may believe that ‘No’ means they will never have access to the object or activity again, rather than realizing that it simply means they can’t have access at that particular moment. Children don’t always have a full understanding about why they are being denied what they want even if it is a harm to their safety. This can also seem like a monumental task for a parent of a child with autism. Children with autism can have a hard time processing big emotions and being told ‘no’ can produce multiple emotions of anger, sadness, and frustration.

Furthermore, during a typical school day, some objects or activities may not be available to the child, such as restricted computer use or not having access to a preferred toy while working. This can lead to challenges for the child in accepting the situation and potentially exhibiting negative behaviors.

Both parents and teachers face the obstacles of teaching a child how to cope when hearing the word ‘no’. So, what should you do before and after telling your child with autism ‘No’:



What to do before and after telling your child with autism “No”

Think of an alternate saying before you tell a child with autism no

Before saying ‘no’ to your child, it’s important to avoid using that exact word. Simply saying ‘no’ can lead to negative behaviors. Instead, find a different way to explain why the answer is no.

For instance, if your child wants something at the grocery store:

Instead of saying: “No, you cannot have that!”
Say: “That’s not on our list today”.

This helps your child understand that the no is not a punishment and may happen at another point. You may even want to explain your reasoning through a social story to help the child understand why they cannot have access to a desired object or activity at a specific time. It’s especially helpful for children with autism. Remember to positively reinforce when the child stays calm and accepts ‘No.’

Consider the various meanings that can be conveyed by the word ‘No’:

  • You can’t have that right now.
  • You are not allowed to do that.
  • We are not going there today.
  • Danger.
  • Stop.
  • Don’t touch that.
  • Maybe.

What to do before and after telling your child with autism “No”

Give a Visual before telling a child with autism no

Children with autism do very well with visuals in all aspects of their lives, being told no is no exception to this. Visuals can be used in a first/then method. This works when you want to say no for right now. So maybe they want to play a game or do something fun but they need to finish homework. You’re not saying no to something fun forever but you need them to finish a task that is important beforehand. This is similar to what their typical peers’ parents go through as well. So, using a first/then chart is helpful to show a child with autism that they can have what they want after they have completed the assigned task.

Another way a visual could be used is through a Social Story. Social stories are a great way to teach a no that might put a child in danger such as not touching a hot stove or not running across the street while there is traffic. A social story could be used to show pushing the button to cross and then waiting for the light to tell them to cross. This shows a child that one action will always be a no (running across the street when it is not safe) and give them an alternate action to take to avoid the no (waiting for the walk symbol).

Allow time for a child with autism to process after telling them no

As with any child being told ‘no’ or ‘not right now’ can create a difficult emotion that they have to process through. It’s a fact of life that we cannot always have or do what we want when we want. However, it takes time to learn the skill of getting a no and moving on without causing a major undesirable behavior. Allowing time for children to process being angry and upset will teach them to deal with the emotion easier the next time. Just like any skill it can take time to practice, it will get easier the more the child understands a no and knows what they can do after.

Giving alternates after telling a child with autism no

A good way to help a child process being told no is to give them an alternative. For example, say a child wants a snack of chips, but it is close to dinner. Instead of saying no and being final, you could say chips aren’t an option right now, but you can have grapes or carrot sticks. This gives a child a choice of an alternate option to something they want while you’re still saying no to their original request. Giving an alternate option is a great way to help a child process through the ‘no’ quicker because now they have a choice to make and it seems to them that they are still getting something that they like.

Points to consider when telling a child with autism to accept the words ‘No’ or ‘Stop’

They have a:

  • strong drive toward favorite objects/activities
  • limited understanding of the concept of ‘No.’
  • difficulty in following verbal instructions
  • lack of understanding of why access is denied

Remember, telling a child with autism ‘no’ can seem like an obstacle to a task. However, knowing what to do before and after can make the process easier on everyone involved and the child learns that sometimes a no happens and it’s nothing to be overly upset about as there could be alternate options for their request or their request could be fulfilled at a different time. It is important to provide positive feedback when a child remains calm and accepts the response of ‘No.’

The Leafwing Center offers services to teach children the skill of accepting the word no, which can be reinforced at home. ABA therapists will create personalized plans based on the child’s ability level and are trained to address the behavior that comes with teaching the skill of accepting the word no.

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