One of the biggest concerns that parents have when raising children living with autism is that “their children just don’t listen.” Besides making instructions very clear and giving instructions only when the child is paying attention, the biggest most important thing a parent must do is follow through when the child does not respond. Not following through when your child does not respond only teaches your child that there is no need to follow your instructions in the future. This pattern, if not addressed, can be very frustrating and stressful.
Following through; however, can be difficult because many times parents are multitasking on a daily basis: cooking dinner, cleaning up the house, talking on the phone, and telling their kids to clean up in the other room et cetera. Think about this before giving instructions: make sure you have your child’s full attention before giving your instruction and once you give your instruction, make sure you can immediately assist your child with completing the instruction you just gave.
Imagine this situation. Mom gives Sally her clothes in the morning and tells her to get dressed. Mom then leaves the room and tries to get lunches and other kids ready as well. She comes back and Sally is still in her jammies playing with her dolls. Mom tells Sally again that she really needs her to get dressed, this time making sure Sally is looking at her while she gives her instruction, points to the clothes, and then leaves again to finish getting things ready for school. When she comes back five minutes later, Sally is still in her jammies playing with her dolls. When Sally’s mom tells her to put her jammies on in the future, do you think Sally will comply? Probably not.
Try this instead. Mom tells Sally she has three more minutes to play with her dolls then it’s time to get dressed. She sets a timer so the beep becomes a signal to transition to another activity (dressing). When the timer goes off, mom is right there to take the dolls and give Sally her clothes. She tells her “get dressed.” Instead of leaving the room, mom stays to make sure Sally starts getting dressed. If Sally just sits there, within about 10 seconds mom tells Sally again to get dressed but this time mom helps Sally start taking off her jammies, gradually backing away as Sally does more and more of the task herself. Mom does not leave the room and does not repeatedly tell Sally “get dressed” without helping and making sure Sally does get dressed. Once Sally is done getting dressed, Sally’s mom gives her the dolls back for 5 more minutes of play before school as a reward for getting dressed. Here, Sally will learn, over repeated times of Sally’s mom following through, that when her mom tells her to get dressed, she cannot continue playing with her toys unless she does what her mom says.
Again, one of the most important factors when increasing your child’s compliance is follow through! How easy is this for you to do?