Tips: How do I get my child to comply and follow instructions? (Part I)

  • Children with autism have the potential to learn just like any children. However, very often, children with autism fail to begin on their learning journey mainly due to their non-compliance. Can a child learn if he or she does not listen and follow instructions and just does what he or she wants? The answer is definitely no!
  • As such, one of the most pivotal skills for children with Autism to acquire is to learn to follow instructions both at home and in school. 
  • Let’s start by understanding what non-compliance is. Non-compliance is when an individual does not or refuses to follow directions or guidance from someone else. Non-compliance is a common challenge for all parents, caregivers and teachers.
  Non-compliance can be demonstrated by the child either :
  1. Passively , e.g. ignoring the instruction given , or
  2. Actively , e.g. whining and crying or becoming aggressive or self-injurious
It may be helpful to know that non-compliance can be deliberate, but at times, may also result from a lack of understanding or motivation.  However, with the right strategies, parents, caregivers and teachers can increase a child’s level of compliance both at home and in school. Below are some tips provided by our Clinical Director, Ms. Wong Mai Shan (BSc. Edu).   Let’s begin with the steps that one can adopt: 
#Step 1:  Provide single, simple and clear instructions from the start Keeping instructions simple, will facilitate clarity and reduce confusion e.g. if you want your child to stop playing, just say “Times up, keep the toys!” instead of saying “We are going to have dinner now, no more playing, you have to keep the toys now!” Certainly, if your child has a good understanding of language you can say more but the issue is not about language but more of compliance so it is best to state things simply and clearly as that will be more meaningful for your child. 

#Step 2: Avoid repeating instructions Repeating instructions may reinforce your child’s non-compliance. It teaches your child that he or she does not need to listen to you and that you do not mean it when you instruct. So, it is recommended to just instruct once.
#Step 3: Provide feedback if your child does not listen Instead of repeating instructions, you can provide clear feedback for his or her non-compliance, e.g. “You did not keep the toy”. Your feedback will help your child learn that his or her behaviour is not right.
#Step 4: Provide meaningful consequence for compliance When your child listens, you want to provide positive feedback to your child for listening e.g. “Good listening! You kept the toys!” This will increase your child’s motivation to want to listen. Besides positive feedback, you should reinforce your child with something he or she likes. Reinforcement can be in the form of a toy or an activity. With time, reinforcers can be faded.


Read part II here


Information provided by:

Wong Mai Shan (Autism Partnership Clinical Director)

Ms. Wong Mai Shan holds a Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of Oregon. Upon graduation, she was in charge of designing and setting up a preschool program at a local kindergarten. Following that, she was a Supervisor at a childcare centre. Since 1989, she has been working with children who have special needs. During her time at Dover Court Preparatory school, she was appointed the Centre Co-coordinator and worked with a wide range of children with different disabilities. Her work with children with special needs continued at Horizon Centre for Special Education, where she was involved in the integration process of her students. She has been working with children with autism in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis since 2001. She served as Autism Partnership’s school supervisor and oversaw the school program, Little Learners. Mai Shan is presently the Clinical Director at AP Singapore, supervising case programs and overseeing training and development of staff. She is also a Behavior Consultant, providing services to families in Singapore and regionally.

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