Are children allowed to say no? Think about a non-autistic child, are they allowed to say no? Think about the autistic child, are they allowed to say no? Usually not. They almost always have to comply.
Autistic children don’t get a choice, don’t get to express how they feel, nor do they get to say no.
Neurotypical children do have to follow a set of parameters most of the time, but they often get to make choices and say no. Think about the day in a non-autistic child’s life. They get to choose what book they want to read, a book isn’t placed in front of them while someone reads through each page with them. Neurotypical children get to choose what activity they want to do when it’s free-time, but often autistic kids aren’t even allowed free-time, let alone choose their desired activity.
Non-autistic kids are allowed to say no. If they don’t want to do something, say go on a bike ride, they can say they’d rather do something else, and their request will be adhered to. If that child doesn’t want to play with their cousin Lily, but would rather play with their cousin, Taylor, they can. If that child is finished with an activity they can say so, and if they’ve done it for enough time (far less time than what is required of an autistic child) they can stop.
We see time and again where the neuro-typical child gets to make choices and say no. But what about the autistic child? They’re made to comply their entire childhood, especially the ones in ABA, which is a large percentage of the autistic population.
Through autistic training, children learn they can’t say no, neither can they make choices for themselves, and when they are allowed to make choices, those options are very narrowed – a choice between two books, two activities, two food items.
If an autistic child can’t talk or can’t communicate well, it compounds the problem even more. They’re not taught to say no, it’s not part of autism education, nor part of life for many autism parents, they often don’t comprehend how important it is to teach their child to say no.
What happens when a child doesn’t learn the word no as part of their vocabulary? Sparrow Rose Jones lays it out wonderfully in her article, No You Don’t. I wish every autism parent, every professional working with autistic children would read this.
If you don’t teach the autistic child to say no, you’re opening a plethora of problems for them.
People will take advantage of them, and this is especially dangerous for girls. If girls aren’t taught to say no, they open themselves to great harm; sexual abuse.
But the truth is, it’s dangerous and unfair for all autistic individuals, even boys, to not be given the opportunity to say no. If they don’t know how to say no, or when to say no, they open themselves to being taken advantage of and abused in our society.
“I want you to teach your children to say no and I want them to know how to mean it and back it up when they say it. I want you to teach your children to value themselves.” Sparrow Rose Jones, autistic adult
How do you teach your nonverbal child to say no? One way is to implement a “No” card or picture if you use PECS or a communication system. We started with showing Jeremiah the “No” card whenever he didn’t want something, his way of showing us used to be turning his head away or walking away. Each time your child shows you with actions or sounds they don’t want something you can show them this “No” card, and you can begin to incorporate it in the cards/photos they use.
Jeremiah doesn’t use many PECS pictures, so the “No” card hasn’t caught on, however he’s been verbalizing much more in the past months and can make the sound “uh uh,” and shake his head sometimes. We take each of these opportunities and say for him either, “No, I don’t want that,” or “No thank you.” He is shaking his head and verbalizing his no quite often and it’s so exciting. For him to be able to communicate what he wants and doesn’t want is a BIG deal.
When children are taught from a young age that they have to do everything the adult says, exactly how the adult says to, exactly when the adult tells them, it creates…compliance.
That compliance cycle can create many problems for children down the road. As autism parents and educators, we need to give children choices and the opportunity to say no.
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