Arguing is one of the most common complaints I hear from parents. The strategies discussed here will work for any children – but they are particularly helpful for children with high functioning autism spectrum disorders who are prone to argue. This makes sense given the nature of ASDs. If we have a child who has intense special interests, who is less likely to have interest in doing things that aren’t in that sphere (a non preferred task of some kind), who doesn’t understand another perspective very well, and who is then is told to do things – we might be able to predict that an argument will ensue. One strategy to use is from the world of functional behavioral analysis. This means we want to understand the function of the behavior, and then teach a replacement behavior to the child to use instead of arguing. As mentioned above, this approach works for children on or off the autism spectrum.
For instance, when the function or purpose of arguing is to try to obtain a desired activity or item, such as the arguing that happens when a child is told no, then the replacement behavior that we want to teach and reward is how to accept no. This would mean saying OK, and moving on. This perhaps could tie in to a reward plan that might even help the child earn the thing or activity that the arguments are often about.
Another possible function or purpose of the arguing might be to obtain attention or to obtain entertainment of sorts. The replacement behavior we might want to teach and reward then would be entertaining oneself, or appropriately asking for attention.
A third possible function or purpose of arguing might be to avoid effort or work, such as when asked to complete a chore. Then the replacement behavior we want to teach and reward is following instructions (look at the person, say OK, do it right away).
To teach these replacement behaviors, I suggest writing out the steps you would like the child to follow and then coaching your child in the steps prior to the trigger, such as prior to saying no or prior to giving an instruction, or prior to a time when you might predict your child will be wanting attention or entertainment of some kind. It is also essential to tie it to a reward plan, since the old behavior of arguing was likely rewarding in some way even if only occasionally – that is, it likely paid off with occasionally working to change someone’s mind when told no, or with obtaining attention even if it was in a negative manner, or by being able to avoid or at least delay effort. Therefore we need to ensure that the positive replacement behavior is more rewarding then the old behavior of arguing.
What do you think is the main purpose of your child’s argumentative behavior? See what you think and give one of these ideas a try.
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