Don’t “Don’t”

A teacher and parent of an 8-year-old girl diagnosed with autism were discussing the challenges of caregiving. The mother commented, “It seems like all I say is ‘don’t do this’ or ‘don’t do that.” The teacher concurred, saying, “It is like putting out little brush fires all day long!” The podcast gives examples of directions stated in positive terms, allowing caregivers to decrease the frustration of saying “Don’t.”

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SOME STRATEGIES. The word “don’t” is spoken repeatedly by parents and teachers every day. Caregivers of individuals with autism could certainly increase smiles if they said “DO” more times each day than they said “DON’T.” The key to this strategy is to use a short phrase to state specifically what you want the person TO DO rather than wasting time discussing what you DON’T want. For example:
+ Instead of saying, “Don’t hit your sister,” say “Hands on knees, please.”
+ Instead of saying “Don’t get up again,” say “Good sitter, please.”
+ Instead of saying, “Don’t pick your nose,” say “Kleenex, please.”
+ Instead of yelling, “Don’t yell!’ whisper “Let’s whisper in the grocery store.”
+ Instead of saying, “Don’t throw those books down,” say “Books on table, please.”
+ Instead of saying, “Don’t splash water out of the tub,” say “Make very little waves, please.”
+ Instead of saying, “Don’t wander around in the store,” say “Stand by me, please.”
+ Instead of saying, “Don’t run out in the street,” say “Stop now!”

More detailed discussion of this “Don’t DON’T” strategy is in the “In-Depth Issues” section of our website: Simply click on the “In-Depth Issues” link, then select the topic “Behavior Management” to find a longer, more detailed discussion of this issue. The “In-Depth Discussion” includes more practical ideas as well as helpful hints for successfully implementing these strategies.

NOTE TO LISTENERS AND READERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. You can click on a button to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solutions. Check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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