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How Do I Deal With Non-Compliance or Negative Behaviors Using ABA?

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If you find yourself dealing with non-compliance or an uncooperative child, then you haven't yet identified the reinforcers that are pleasing enough for the child to encourage them to respond as requested. 

Non-compliance and reinforcement go hand in hand.  If you are reinforcing generously, especially through the more challenging drills, then compliance will not become as big of a problem, even when behavior starts to decline.  That is not to say that you won’t ever have issues come up.  But how you deal with it matters a whole lot.  Be firm, CALM, and consistent.

When my son has an off day, I try to go over his day and analyze what set him off track.  Is Matthew trying to avoid something, get attention, or is he angry about something?

bullet If Matthew is trying to avoid something, I have to help him work through his avoidance issues with lots of positive reinforcement.  Differential reinforcement is very important.  I try to remember to reinforce BIG when he tries just the slightest bit during times when he is non-compliant, especially.  This will show him that this is important, and it will also pair the behavior to a very reinforcing situation.

bullet If he is having attention getting behavior (negative behavior), I have to remember not to reinforce the behavior that I DON'T want.  If your child cries or fusses in therapy until you finally give in and let him/her stop- you have just reinforced that crying makes the therapy to be over.  But, if instead you make them continue sitting, participating or what ever the activity is UNTIL HE/SHE STOPS FUSSING and THEN IMMEDIATELY LET THEM STOP AND GIVE THEM REINFORCEMENT, WHEN THEY STOP FUSSING- now you are reinforcing that STOPPING the fussing gets the child what they want i.e. a short break from therapy.  However much possible, reward positive or desired behavior and ignore negative behavior.

I also try and remember to tell him what I want him to do and don't tell him what I don’t want him to do.  This keeps the child focused on the positive, desired behavior and avoids confusion that can occur when the child may only hear the instruction "...do this..."  but the child doesn't hear (or doesn't properly process) the "don't" you said with it.  Ex.-  if the child is laying their head on the table and crying, DO NOT say "Don't fuss", or "Don't lay on the table"; instead, DO say "Sit up straight", or "Be quiet, Shhh (softly)".  But remember, staying positive doesn't mean you accept inappropriate behavior, it just means you always use POSITIVE methods to shape the desired behavior in the child.

bullet If Matthew is angry about something, I have to figure out what it is he is angry about and try to help him work through whatever it is.  Or, if I can remove just a part of the irritant  that is agitating him the most, sometimes that is enough to help him move through the rest of the exercise or problem.  Sometimes it is just a sensory overload of something, and removing part of the stimulus that is overloading him and then reintroducing it later in very small steps, with lots of positive reinforcement can make a difference. 


Overall, how you reinforce and what you reinforce will make the difference in how effective you are in helping your child. To learn more about dealing with non-compliance and negative behaviors, see A Work In Progress by Ron Leaf and John McEachin. 

You will find many valuable books, tapes and conference info at the Future Horizons website about ABA.  Future Horizons is a company specializing in products related to Autism Spectrum Disorders.  This is the FIRST place to look for books and tapes on Autism because that is what they SPECIALIZE in providing.
Find great books, videos, and conferences now at Future Horizons
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