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I Can’t or I Won’t…?


Many students with ASD have behavioural tendencies that are viewed by others as “oppositional”. They refuse to try new things and seem to only want to do something if it is their own idea. There are many reasons this might be occurring, including:

  • Lack of belief in his own abilities or competencies.
  • Fear or anxiety around his ability to do something new “perfectly”.
  • A preference for doing things the same way over and over.
  • A sensory sensitivity involved with the activity you want him to try.

These behaviours can be challenging for parents of typical children but can be much more difficult to manage if your child has an ASD.

Try these tips when introducing a new activity:

  • Talk about the new activity prior to creating an expectation that your son or daughter try it.
  • With your child, watch others do the activity several times and draw your child’s attention to the parts of the activity you know he can do.
  • If your child has a special interest or a favorite character, write a story about the new activity incorporating the character or the interest. Read the story to him.
  • Allow him to explore materials related to the activity prior to suggesting he try the activity (e.g. soccer ball, soccer shoes for soccer, skipping rope for skipping).
  • Be realistic in your expectations. Many students with ASD experience difficulty learning complex motor routines such as tying shoes or engaging in sports. Don’t allow others to pressure you into pushing your child to try a task for which he’s not ready.
  • Avoid getting into an argument of the “yes you can” / “no I can’t” variety. Verbal children with ASD may engage in the argument as a way of putting off trying something. They may also become more entrenched in their belief as they stack up arguments against doing what you propose.
  • Provide choice when you introduce a new activity e.g. what to wear, what to do first, which role to take, when to do the activity, etc.
  • Don’t give up. Patience and persistence have paid off for many families who have a child with ASD who is reluctant to join in.
  • If your child’s oppositional behaviours persist or escalate, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Specialists in behavioural analysis or a counselor with experience in ASD may help you develop a plan that will work for you. In BC, Autism Community Training can provide a list of approved service providers for your area.

The following resources may be helpful in getting your child to try new things:
Power Cards: Using Special Interests to Motivate Children and Youth with Asperger Syndrome and Autism Paperback – November 1, 2001

When My Worries Get Too Big! A Relaxation Book for Children Who Live with Anxiety Paperback – May, 2006