Being Fun Will INcrease Compliance in Children with Autism

Last night my husband and I were so proud of ourselves! We were at Step 6: Read 1 Story on our son’s evening visual schedule. Recently we limited the number of books we read each night to one because that number had been slowly increasing over the last several weeks. “Please, just one more story” had become our son’s favorite bedtime phrase and our least favorite!

Having the number on the schedule meant there was no option to negotiate more than one story. But being a smart little guy, he was determined to find a way around it. Halfway through one of us reading him a book, he would change his mind and want us to read a different book. If we didn’t, things would escalate quickly. We had to get this under control.

My son is four years old. He has ADHD and Autism. He attends Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, both in-center, and the therapist also works with him in our home. I have learned a lot over the years from his therapists. I recently discovered a new strategy to get my son to comply with a request or instruction. We make what we want him to do WAY more fun that what he wants to do!

It sounds so simple, and it is! Here are a few examples of how this strategy works!

Examples of Using Fun to Increase Compliance

So back to the storytime issue, a few nights ago, when my son ditched his first choice book a few pages in for a new story, my husband and I kept reading the first book.  But we amped it up a bit! The book was Dr. Suess’s ABC, so each time we said the upper case letters, we jumped up and shouted, “Big A!” Then when we said the lower case letters, we got low to the floor and whispered, “little c.” My son instantly gave up wanting a new story and jumped right in the middle of the action! A win for us!

Last night he was non-compliant in following my instruction that it was time for his bath. So I just walked into the bathroom, began filling the tub, stepped into it, and started racing his bath toy cars around the tub’s edge. He immediately got undressed and jumped in to join me! At that point, I thanked him for complying (positive reinforcement), and we continued playing (also reinforcement.)

Today when we got home from preschool, he was refusing to get out of the car. His behavior therapist had just arrived. She told him, “Hey, let’s go inside and find a ghost!” Pretending to find ghosts is a highly preferred activity for him. So her saying they would hunt for ghosts instantly caught his attention, and he followed her inside.

What Skills a Child is Gaining When Parents Use Fun to Gain Compliance

It may seem we are using bribes and gimmicks to get him to comply, and partly, that is true. But what is happening simultaneously is that he is learning following instructions is expected, and negotiation isn’t an option. He is learning to be proud of himself when he complies with what his parents, therapists, and teachers. He is learning that we care about him because rather than punishing him for not doing what we’ve asked, we create scenarios where does, and we praise him for it. We are meeting him where he is developmentally and offering him a bridge to success until he can meet proper expectations without it.

Parenting a child with autism is challenging and exhausting. But it’s also creative, energizing, and rewarding. Once my son is FINALLY settled in for the night, I collapse on the couch, with not an ounce of energy left. But this exhausted mama also has a smile on her face and joy in her heart!

Being the parent of a child with autism is the most rewarding chaos I have ever experienced. – Author Unknown

Published by

Amy Nielsen

Amy Nielsen is a former children's librarian of nearly twenty years. She now spends most of her time obsessively pounding on a keyboard. She is the author of It Takes a Village: How to Build a Support System for Your Exceptional Needs Family, Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder. Her upcoming YA Worth it debuts in May of 2024. She is also a freelance writer for The Autism Helper. When she's not writing, she and her family are most likely crusing the waters of Tampa Bay.