Behavior Management & Compliance: How do I get my child to comply and follow instructions? (Part 1)

Children with autism have the potential to learn just like any child does. However, many children with autism are unable to begin their learning journey because of their lack of compliance, which is also known as non-compliance.

Is it possible for your child to learn if they do not listen and follow instructions and just do what they want? The answer is definitely no! Therefore, the ability to follow instructions is one of the most crucial skills that children with autism must learn both at home and in school.

Let’s begin by understanding non-compliance. Non-compliance occurs 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:

  • • Passively, e.g. ignoring an instruction, or
  • • Actively, e.g. whining and crying or becoming aggressive or self-injurious

It may be useful to know that non-compliance can be intentional, but it can also be due to a lack of understanding or motivation. As parents, caregivers, and teachers, you can increase your child or student’s levels of compliance by using the right strategies. Our Clinical Director, Ms. Wong Mai Shan, shares strategies in this article on how to increase compliance.


Step-by-Step Guide:
How do I get my child to comply and follow instructions?

Step 1: Provide single, simple and clear instructions from the start

Simple instructions facilitate understanding and reduce confusion. For example, if you want your child to stop playing, simply say “Times up! Keep the toys!” instead of saying “We’re going to have dinner now, no more playing, keep the toys!” the toys now!”

You can say more if your child is proficient in the language but the issue is not about word choice but rather about compliance. Therefore it is best to state the matter simply and clearly, as that will make it more meaningful for your child.


Step 2: Avoid repeating instructions

Repeating your instructions may appear as though you are reinforcing your child’s non-compliance. In addition, it could give the impression that you are not serious when you instruct him or her, which would make them less inclined to listen to you.Therefore, it is recommended to instruct only once with simple and clear instructions.


Step 3: Provide clear feedback if your child does not listen

Providing clear feedback like “You didn’t take the toy,” instead of repeated instructions, will enable your child to understand why his or her behavior is not acceptable.​


Step 4: Provide meaningful consequence for compliance

Other than providing feedback when your child is not listening, you should also give positive feedback when your child is listening, e.g., “Good listening! You kept the toy.” This will increase your child’s motivation to listen.


You should reinforce your child with something he or she likes in addition to positive feedback. Reinforcement can come in the form of a toy or an activity. Over time, reinforcers can be faded.

In adopting the strategies outlined in this guide, there are some tips and considerations that you should consider to increase their effectiveness. In Part 2 of this article, Ms. Wong Mai Shan, Clinical Director, will be sharing tips on how to increase compliance. The tips can be used alongside this guide in Part 1 to increase your child’s compliance.


Related article:
Behavior Management & Compliance: How do I get my child to comply and follow instructions? (Part 2)


To learn more ways to teach behavior skills, read A Work In Progress.

Autism Partnership Publications


Information provided by:

Wong Mai Shan, BSc. Edu., Clinical Director, AP Singapore
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. She has been involved in international consults to family; and has also conducted AP workshops and talks regionally.
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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