Archive for September, 2012

How can I get my child to listen to me – The way of Instructional control

September 11, 2012 6 comments

Instructional control involves using a number of well researched and laid out technical procedures in Applied Behavior Analysis. I will however be aiming to keep this as non-technical as possible so that parents who are not exposed to ABA principles can still gain  at the end of the read.

The most important requirement is an open mind, a subtle change in approach and this is most difficult, time ( quantity and quality). I’ll be happy to reflect further based on comments.

( courtesy )

Some comments I often hear from parents with children with autism, adhd etc.

  • ” I know he heard me but he will not do it unless he feels like doing it – he is very head strong ( like his….) “
  • “This fellow will not even move from the sofa – I have to go and give everything where he is”
  • ” The moment she sees me she’ll demand something that I cannot give and then create a ruckus- I cannot get her to listen to me at that time
  • I have to hold his hands all the time while walking- he could suddenly run and will not stop even if I shout at him
  • A simple thing like wiping the water on the table or putting the plate in the sink – she will not do
  • I try to do puzzles with her,  I try to be good and positive and nice to her but after one or two minutes she will scatter all the things from the box; I will then shout at her and get her to do put them back in the box. She would then shout and cry and after sometime I will only gather everything scattered all over the room

we’ll try and learn now what we can do differently to get our child to listen to us , it is important so that the child can learn and grow-  one of the most important sources of reinforcements in a natural environment comes from listening to and acting upon words from care givers, team leaders, authority figures, peer leaders  etc.

Contrary to what we think,  parent’s often interrupt a child’s preferred activity, do not give what the child wants immediately, unwittingly give tasks which is actually difficult for the child  ,  mistakenly attribute lack of fluency to laziness and try to hurry or hustle, use a raised voice or interact only when the child creates some problem… the cumulative effect of all this is predictable , not good compliance.

So the first step involves giving up your expectations and following the child’s lead, it is called pairing. Very simply put you try to pair yourself with as many of the child’s reinforcers ( liked and loved things) as possible. By such pairing you acquire reinforcing properties yourself. This works on the same principle that works when  companies use celebrities to endorse their brands in advertisements. For the viewer, the brand then acquires the qualities ( macho/ fun/ adventurous/ super confident etc) of the celebrity by association.

In the initial stages thus, it is important to follow, find out the child’s interests and become a provider of the preferred items that the child wants.  This requires some environmental manipulation to ensure that the child cannot directly access the desired items.  These could be edibles, toys,activities like playing on computer or iphone, going for a walk, swimming ,  music on TV etc.  The parent, over a period of time is able to judge what the child would want next and provide them non-contingently. Non contingently means without tying what the child wants to any instruction (Don’t say  keep the pen on table and I’ll give you X, Give X for free) or the child manding ( giving it only after making the child request).  While giving the item or activity, if there is eye-contact, exchange of smiles, parent saying something in a friendly tone ( ” Hey, so you want to play with water, lets go then….”) that much better for the pairing exercise. Pairing also occurs when you join in the fun activity with voice pairing etc.  ( singing a rhyme, saying “whoa , what a ggreat throw”….). Pairing your voice with the child’s fun situations plays a very important role in pairing yourself as a person.

The grand  result of pairing  ( which is an ongoing activity.. never to be stopped) would be that you yourself would acquire reinforcing properties of all the preferred items and activities and now the child WILL be WILLING to listen to you….. a bit!

At this stage, when pairing is not well in place  parents would be well advised to avoid making vocal demands or give instructions- if something needs to be done use gestures or help the child by completing the action for the child.

From now on as you advance to gaining the next stages in instructional control it should be done with guidance from a ABA professional ( A Board Certified Behavior Analyst – BCBA or Board Certified associate Behavior Analyst ( BCaBA).

Stage 2,  would  involve starting mand training ( requesting) for children that do not have manding in their repertoire and step up manding with children that are able to request using language or signs. Manding along with non-contingent reinforcement makes for a great combination to make pairing successful. Mand training involves contriving a shortage of preferred items so that ( simplest way to do this is hide them and keep changing location) the child’s motivation to seek adult help in accessing it is high. In the early days of communication development a few hundred mands a day will be needed.

Stage 3 , As pairing and manding develops start introducing brief instructions in between the exercises. These instructions should be easy for the child to do initially and rewarded with a reinforcement immediately. If the child has difficulty in doing it, help with prompts and still reinforce.

Once you are able to fluently get the child to comply with simple instructions, you can gradually increase the difficulty ( example – instead of keeping the remote one feet away on the sofa, walk across the living room some 6 feet and keep it on a center table, instead of wiping a small patch of floor, wipe a larger area). It is easy to make a mistake at this stage and increase the task difficulty too fast or reduce reinforcements . Proceed to next level only after you have achieved success in current level of compliance for atleast 4- 5 days consecutively. Select your targets for giving instructions carefully- they should be functional for the child, easy to train using prompting and should require less effort initially.

This is only the beginning of instructional control , however, it is also the most important phase.  Sometime in future, I hope to write about further procedures involving compliance training, teaching behavior chains,  contingency contracts, Joint attention  etc., all of which have a practical value in home setting.

Some additional references

Note: The author is a ABA professional mentoring under a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. He  can be contacted on

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