Raise your hand if you like people to tell you NO when you really want something. What if you ask very nicely? What if you plead your case? What if you whine and stomp your feet? What if you won’t be their friend any more? It doesn’t take much time around kids (and adults) before you learn that NO can bring out the worst in human nature. The trouble is, NO can be endlessly confusing for some kids.
The fuzziness of NO is especially tricky for autistic kids. NO can mean No, Not Now, Never, Maybe, I’ll Negotiate later, or OK If You Leave Me Alone. There are many factors which can change NO into something else:
- Environment: NO, you can’t run around and turn off all the lights at school, but if I’m in a good mood, you can do that at home. NO, you cannot buy that Lego set, but since everyone in the mall can hear you screaming, I’ll buy one just this time.
- Manipulation: NO, you can’t eat another piece of candy, but when you look me in the eyes and smile, YES, I have changed my mind.
- Guilt: NO, you may not stay up to watch that show, but look how precious you can be, no matter what they say at school/ in the family/ in the neighborhood.
- Energy: NO, you may not watch that cartoon, but I am going to fall over if I don’t take a quick nap.
- Social mores: NO, you cannot kiss every girl in kindergarten, even though it was cute in preschool.
Is all lost? NO! Social mores are the best place to start because they aren’t based on your energy level, anxiety, or kid manipulation. Start with two categories of NO: ALWAYS NO and SOMETIMES NO. Aggression, bullying, teasing, victimization, and destruction of property are ALWAYS NO. SOMETIMES, kids can ask for their preferred activities and objects and get them. The fine art of negotiation is not lost on autistic kids, but many have to be taught how to ask, when to ask, and how to accept a NO. Responding to NO appropriately can be rehearsed and included in rubrics for kids at home and school. For kids with serious language/processing issues, you need to be sure that NO isn’t a substitute for HELP (like “This class environment is killing me”) or HURT (“I am going to throw up if I do that!”).