The behavior of trying to escape a situation in all children is common, but especially so with autistic children who have a lot going on and little to no attention span. In applied behavioral analyses therapy (ABA) avoidance techniques are tackled head on, to build up the child’s tolerance to accept and even enjoy certain situations—such as sitting down to read a book. A child won’t be allowed to escape a situation (since this will re-enforce that escape is preferable to getting through to the other side) so what does the therapist do to make sure the child feels they can make it through that moment?

ABA Techniques: How to Encourage a Child to Stick it Out

A lot of now vs then techniques may be used. Sometimes autistic children have a hard time understanding that this moment won’t be forever. Timers are set up to show this will end and posters explaining now vs then. Rewards are also great. Rewards such as music, and toys when they finish a task can help a child get excited to finish, instead of unmotivated and blah. Replacing behaviors is another tool. Instead of your child running away and hiding, the therapist teaches them to ask for a break. If they ask too often, it is lined up with the other techniques and tolerance built up. For older children the work you are doing together could be too hard, do they understand it or getting too frustrated by how difficult it is? Maybe everyone needs to step back and look at whether this is a reasonable ask. For older children, help him/her discover their why, what positive thing they will get from learning or ‘surviving’ this task? Talk out the positives and help them view the task from a new light. If the amount of time it takes is too overwhelming, a therapist may cut the work into parts, doing some now then taking a break and some later. Our therapist uses awesome token systems, which are Velcro tokens of their favorite characters. Every time they complete one step they get a new token and they love it!

The Therapist Doesn’t Expect Perfection

The effort should get rewarded more than the outcome. If your little one tried really hard but got the answers wrong, this won’t be penalized. For e.g. If we’re teaching a child to do the dishes, and stick it out, but they leave mess on a couple of cutlery, oh well! The point is they stuck it through and should be rewarded. Everyone makes mistakes and perfection isn’t the outcome we want here, it’s getting through the situation. The therapist will always praise your child as they take steps through a non-preferred task, they deserve it. It is difficult to do anything when your world is full of noise and distraction, sometimes they just want to do something easy; but as we all know we can’t always do this as adults.

This is Something We All Do

Often ABA is just common sense. I bet you ask for help, know why you want things, take breaks and reward yourself for getting through boring tasks too! For instance,

“This meeting will take 20 minutes, I’ll learn some valuable things and when I go home and take a bubble bath.”

“I would like to be healthier for my family; I can ask my friends for help and have a special meal on the weekend. If I lose 10lbs I can get a new wardrobe.”

The procedures your ABA therapist uses isn’t alien, these are things even non-autistic people need to learn to optimize their days! And they set your child up to conquer the more uncomfortable aspects of later life, like boring work, meetings and chores.