Increasing Cooperation

Five reasons why children/youth may not listen to what you ask:

  1. I can’t do it!
  2. I don’t understand!
  3. I can’t hear you!
  4. I have never done this before!
  5. What is in it for me?

I Can't Do It! 

Are there any barriers in the way? Is your instruction appropriate for the situation? There may be environmental, cognitive, medical or physical barriers preventing your child/youth from following your instruction. For example:

  • asking child/youth to put away a book on a shelf that is too high
  • teaching 5-year-old child about quantum physics
  • asking a constipated 12-year-old to cut the lawn
  • asking a 3-year-old to cut a full page of shapes


  • Decrease barriers when possible (change the environment, know your child/youth’s current cognitive abilities, change expectations if child/youth unwell)
  • Increase prompting: give more help
  • Decrease the amount of effort required from your child/youth
  • If a task seems too hard because of how much you expect your child/youth to do, or how much effort is required, you can have him/her complete some aspect of the task independently and help with the rest

I Don’t Understand!

Are the instructions/expectations clear? A child/youth may not follow if a message is unclear, not specific, or formed as a question (rather than a statement).

For example, what if you said, “John, can you please clean up your room and put your clothes away?”

  • John can say “no,” which is a valid and appropriate answer
  • Saying “clean up your room” implies John knows everything involved (e.g., making his bed, vacuuming, putting away games/toys, picking up clothes, dusting, etc.)
  • You are asking John to do multiple things with this one request


  • Make sure the message is clear on what you expect your child/youth to do
    • Use as few words as possible
    • Give one demand at a time (“John, vacuum your room”)
  • Instruction is specific and says exactly what you want him/her to do
    • Instead of “clean up your room,” you could say, “put toys on the floor into the bin”
  • Use questions ONLY when child/youth can answer yes/no

I Can’t Hear You!

Children/youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders often have a hard time processing a lot of stimuli at the same time. If your child is watching TV while looking at a book and rocking, it is not likely he/she will hear your instruction.


  • Decrease distractions in the environment
  • Turn off noise and background stimuli (TV, video games, cause/effect music toys)
  • Close curtains, put away distracting items
  • Pay attention to things that may be bothering your child/youth’s senses, like itchy clothing, tight or loose clothing, wet clothes, etc.

I Have Never Done This Before!

A child/youth may never have done what you are asking. The thing you are asking might be too difficult. Ask yourself, “Have I ever seen him/her do this before?”


  • Show your child/youth what you want him/her to do
  • Help your child/youth by using prompts
  • Break a larger skill down into smaller skills
    • If you want to teach your child to do the laundry, you need to teach all the smaller steps involved first

What’s In It For Me?