Many parents and specialists have found that for some children on the spectrum, the use of both positive and negative consequences often resulted in more oppositional defiance. Usually this is because of the child’s severe anxiety and strong need to control all interaction and activity around them. This leaves them too vulnerable to expectations and performance anxiety. This leads to radically different responses to typical positive rewards and punishments used to motivate other children. There are two main negative side effects of using positive and negative consequences.

  1. Any attempt to reinforce positive behavior leads to the realization that the desired behavior is now an expectation to occur in the future. With positive reinforcement comes great expectation to perform again and stronger performance anxiety. Task performance anxiety is severe when expectations are placed on them. Meeting the expectations and the resultant reinforcement leads to greater anxiety. Hence, resist and defy.
  2. Secondly, as can be expected, when they see us trying to manipulate their behavior by reinforcing or punishing it they immediately sense that we are trying to control them. They are hyper-sensitive to control and immediately resist any sense that we are manipulating. They do not trust following our lead because we are trying to manipulate them.

For these children it is all about the lack of trust in following our lead and doing anything that meets our expectations. To be compliant means to lose one’s sense of control and security. Even when punishment is applied or very strong desirable consequences are offered, nothing is more important than maintaining the control.

The adult has to give up their preconceived notions that they are in control and that the child must do what they want. We need to stop trying to direct and change their behavior. We must star out by giving up the control and following the lead of the child until they see us as a working partner with them and feel safe that we will not pressure them to comply. It is about building trust by being a non-threatening partner with no demands or expectations. We follow their lead rather than trying to direct and instruct them. Helping them feel safe and secure engaging with us. Once this trust is established then you can start to stretch them comfort zones by gradually building in variations and elaborations in what you are doing together. But still only letting them dictate how and when we do that.


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