A child with a diagnosis of autism can experience difficulty communicating, socializing, and engage in repetitive behaviors. Since problem behaviors tend to develop when a child has difficulty getting their needs and wants met appropriately, one of the first goals of ABA therapy for a child with communication deficits is to teach them to request appropriately. This can include teaching them to use vocalizations, sign language, or picture exchange communication systems depending on their skill set. Target requests can include preferred items (“cookies”, “book”, or “bubbles”), activities (“swimming”, “outside”, or “bike”), or actions of others (“up”, “open”, or “help”). Since each early request is typically reinforced immediately by receiving access to the desired item or activity, it can be difficult to fade this reinforcement out overtime when the item/activity is not available. There comes a time during the intensive teaching process that the “Accepting No” protocol must be implemented in order to teach a child to quietly accept “no” as a response to their request rather than engaging in problem behavior such as hitting, kicking, crying, or whining.
The “Accepting No” protocol involves 5 basic steps:
1) Wait for the child to request something that is a preferred item, activity, or action.
2) Immediately following the request, say to the child, “no, you cannot have item requested/activity/action but you can have something else the child prefers (a second best option).
3) If the child remains quiet and refrains from engaging in problem behavior, immediately reinforce this appropriate behavior by providing access to the 2nd item that was offered (the second best choice) along with specific praise (“wow, what a good listener”).
4) If the child immediately engages in problem behavior following the “no” statement, withhold access to the requested item as well as the 2nd item that was offered.
5) Be sure to ignore all behavior that does not cause harm to the child, others or property such as crying, whining, or falling to the floor.
6) If the child engages in harmful behavior, physically block the behavior while withholding any additional attention such as speaking with the child and/or looking at the child.
Data should be collected on this behavior (date, time, problem behavior exhibited, and duration of problem behavior) and it should be repeated until the child begins to accept “no” without engaging in problem behavior. Overtime, this will teach the child that, if they accept “no” appropriately, they still receive access to something good. But, if they don’t accept “no” appropriately (i.e. engage in problem behavior), they will not gain access to any preferred item or attention from their parents.