Your Child Has Autism And Is Noncompliant. What Do You Do?

April 7, 2018


By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

Founding Editor,

Noncompliance means exactly what it says — refusal to comply with a request.  As you might expect, noncompliance is fairly common among children and teens.  With children with autism, it may be particularly important to establish compliance early on in an intensive ABA treatment program, and several methods have been shown to work, but not all of the time.

A study by Fischetti and others, in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, sought to directly compare some of these methods to see which produced the most compliance in response to a request to put a toy away.  Specifically, they compared: (a) reduction in response effort, (b) differential reinforcement + effort reduction, (c) guided compliance + effort reduction, and (d) guided compliance + differential reinforcement + effort reduction.

The reduction in response effort was achieved by changing the distance of the toy bin.  Differential reinforcement involved delivering an edible contingent on compliance.  Guided compliance involved hand-over-hand guidance to help the child put the toy in the bin.

The results?  It depends on which of the three children you are referring. For one child, a reduction in effort worked up to a point, but worked better with differential reinforcement.  The same treatment was ineffective for the two other children, however.  For one of the children, guided compliance was necessary, and for the other differential reinforcement needed to be added to the guided compliance to see meaningful results.


Remember, ABA interventions are not a one-size-fits all approach.  You must tailor your program to the individual needs of the people you are working with.

We would love to hear your stories of working with noncompliance in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive new articles directly to your inbox!



Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns and  Todd serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and as an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues.  He has worked as a behavior analyst in day centers, residential providers, homes, and schools, and served as the director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Todd’s areas of expertise include writing, entrepreneurship, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Instructional Design, Organizational Behavior Management, and ABA therapy. Todd can be reached at



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