student and teacher cleaning vegetables

We’ve all heard it before, “How many times do I have to tell you to…?”  Sometimes, it is important to repeat what you’ve asked someone to do.  However, asking too many times can result in difficult behaviors that may lead to anything from a delay in a response, to complete refusal. Here are some of the reasons someone may avoid doing what they are asked to do – over and over again – and some tips on how to overcome refusal:

  • Sometimes words are overwhelming. An individual with autism deals with many sensory challenges. With all of the sensory input an individual is trying to tolerate, verbal prompts may not be something they are capable of understanding in the moment. Providing a prompt, then giving them time to process that request, may have better results than asking them again. Try waiting a breath longer than you think is necessary before reprompting.
  • Sometimes speaking is not the best option. There are many ways to prompt an individual. Sometimes all it takes is asking. However, sometimes making the request clear and concise though written words, by using a schedule, or through gestures, may be an easier way for the individual to process what you are asking them to do.
  • Sometimes we just talk too much. If we are carrying on constant conversation – either with friends, co-workers, or other individuals – the person you are asking may not realize you’re talking to them, even if you use their name. Often, we talk about individuals rather than to them, or we talk about things that need to be done when we aren’t actually asking them to take care of it right then. This can lead to confusion when asking them to complete a task. Try using eye contact and body proximity (don’t yell from across the room) to gain the individual’s attention before placing a demand.
  • Sometimes they wait for us to tell them. If an individual is constantly being told what to do, inevitably they will wait to be told before taking any action at all. This reduces independence and prevents them from learning the steps to a task. Try asking the individual to start a task and see what they are able to do on their own before jumping in and prompting them. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple prompt to do a task and the individual can complete it independently. Eventually, it likely won’t even require the prompt.
  • Sometimes less is more. If they do need a prompt, try using partial words (get “wa…” instead of “get water”) or pointing to remind them; then, use fewer and fewer prompts until they can complete the task independently.
  • Sometimes excessive prompting results in excessive attention to refusal behaviors. Prompting, especially doing so constantly, can actually result in continued refusal. As soon as you stop asking, the attention stops. When an individual is not following directions but keeps looking to see if you are still paying attention, try placing the demand, then avoid eye contact and conversation with that person. Try praising other individuals who are doing what you’ve asked them to do. Once the individual follows through with your request, provide over-the-top amounts of praise.

Overprompting can lead to frustration on the part of both the person placing the demand, and the person being asked to complete a task. When we are aware of how and how many times we make requests, the outcome is more likely to be positive for everyone.

Written by Stephanie Parsons, Ed.S, BCBA, LBA, Behavior Analyst at The Center for Discovery®.

For more information about supporting our Psychology Department, please contact Richard Humleker, Vice President of Development, at rhumleker@tcfd.org.