Accepting ‘No’/ ‘Stop’

There will be times throughout the school day when a student cannot have access to an object or activity. Examples may include not being allowed to use the computer at certain times, not having access to a favourite toy while working. This can be difficult for the student to accept and he/she may respond with a negative behaviour.

Reasons why accepting ‘No’/’Stop’ may be difficult for students with autism

  • Strong drive towards favourite objects/activities. Many students with autism have strong preferences for certain activities or objects. They often associate these things with familiarity which brings comfort and reassurance. If the student is feeling anxious, the drive to have preferred things will be even stronger as they find it calming.
  • Limited understanding of the concept of ‘No’. Developmentally, the student may still be learning what ‘No’ means. It may not have been applied consistently in the past and so the student has not learned to accept ‘No’. The student may also think that ‘No’ means they will never get access to the object/activity again, rather than understanding that it can mean they can’t have access now but will have access later.
  • Difficulty in following verbal instructions. If the student has limited receptive language skills, he/she may not understand the verbal instruction of ‘No’ or ‘Stop’.
  • Lack of understanding of why access is denied. Some students may become upset because they do not understand why they cannot access the object/activity at that time. They do not understand the adult’s reasons for denying access at certain times, particularly when they are allowed to have the object or activity at other times.

Teaching a student to accept ‘No’/’Stop’.

  • Use a visual symbol. Support the verbal instruction with a symbol to represent ‘No’ or ‘Stop’. This provides clarity and consistency to the student who has reduced receptive communication. Link to ‘No’/’Stop’ symbol
  • Place symbol over object. An appropriate visual symbol can be placed over the object (or picture of the object), which is not permitted at that time (e.g. computer, toy). The symbol may be ‘No’, ‘Stop’ or ‘Closed’ etc. Link to example of symbols.
  • Use a visual schedule. Show the student the desired object or activity on his/her schedule. A ‘First/Then’ schedule may also be effective. This teachers the student that the desired object or activity is ‘Not available now’ but is available ‘Later’.
  • Change the language used. The words ‘No’ or ‘Stop’ can have negative associations for many students with autism and can trigger negative responses. The teacher using different language, such as ‘Not now’, ‘Later’ or ‘Not this time’ can help.
  • Explain your reasoning. A Social Story may help the student understand why they can not have access to a desired object or activity at a specific time.   Link to section on social stories.
  • Positively reinforce when the student stays calm and accepts ‘No’ or ‘Stop’. Link to section on Reinforcement and Rewards