Using the Word STOP

What does STOP really mean? Being told to STOP can be very confusing for people with ASD.

Many children with ASD, ODD have “Mind Blindness.” It means they often are literal, don’t know the inferred intent of language and have difficulty taking another’s perspective. This means the word STOP can be very confusing. For example if an adult says “STOP” do they mean stop breathing, stop looking, stop moving, etc.

STOP does not tell a child what they can do – it only tells them what they shouldn’t do. When you have to use STOP make sure you add a little more information so that the child knows what they should do, e.g. “STOP! Hands down” if he is about to reach for something on the stove or “STOP. Feet still” when he is about to run onto the road or “STOP, pencil down time to listen.” Although these instructions sound a little overdirected they clearly convey the intended message to the child.

It is important children know what the STOP word means and to respond appropriately for their own safety. Here are some fun ways to teach STOP in the early years:

  • Teach STOP by playing STOP / GO games ideally with a ball race or some other toy that your child enjoys and is easy to stop. Put your hand on the toy to stop it operating at the same time as you say stop while simultaneously holding your other hand up in a stop gesture. Make sure you use a firm, definite tone as you say “STOP!”
  • For the younger child you can also teach STOP / GO when you play “Row, row, row your boat” or other predictable physical activities
  • When teaching safety you can also teach the song “walk, walk and walk and STOP!” “run, run, run and STOP!”

Excerpt from The Early Years: The Foundations for ALL Learning by Sue Larkey and Gay von Ess, page 39

Dean Beadle, who has ASD, explained why STOP didn’t work for him as a child. He believes you need to be socially motivated to respond. By that he means that the other person’s opinion is more valuable than yours. You need to believe that person has authority over you and be motivated to be where the person tells you to be. In his opinion STOP is a wasted word, better to say “If you come here we can do x” or tell children what action you want them to do.

Avoid Saying “NO”

Using the word “No” does not help the young child with ASD learn what he can do. “No” is a very confusing word. It can mean “Stop”, “Wrong”, “That is not the choice”, “There isn’t any left”, “Later”, “Time to stop or finish”, or “You don’t want it.”

The word “No” will often escalate inappropriate behaviours rather than reduce them. Some children are very literal so when an adult says “No juice”, a very literal child will think there will NEVER AGAIN be juice, when what the adult really meant was the juice was “all gone” or the child could have it later.

Depending on the circumstances other words that can be used instead of “No” are: Wait, All gone, I don’t want it, Can’t go in, Try again, Finish, Later, Help, Walk (rather than NO running), Hand up (rather than NO calling out), Stop.

Focus on telling the child what you want him to do rather than focusing on what he is not to do; e.g. if he rushed into the bathroom and started playing with the taps, rather than saying “No!” say “First toilet, then wash hands.” The latter is far more supportive and directive for the child.

Rather than saying “No” a child can’t do an activity use a visual schedule to explain when they can do it.

Using “First, Then…” or “When, Then…” or “Now, Next, Later” are great to encourage children to try new activities. Always put their favourite activity last as a built-in reward for trying new activities.

Excerpt from The Early Years: The Foundations for All Learning by Sue Larkey and Gay von Ess, page 12.