Why Teaching Please and Thank You Should Be Avoided Early On - Autism Mom, ABA Help for Professionals and Parents
By Mary Barbera, PhD, RN, BCBA-D

We all want our kids to be polite, but in the case of a child with autism, we need to be mindful of not focusing on words like “please” and “thank you” before he or she can tell us what they want and need.

The problem with teaching manners too early to a child with autism is that instead of using the item name (cookie) and asking for “cookie,” the child might reach for cookie and say “please” instead. A parent or teacher might then give the child a cookie because he used nice manners but the child may not know the name of the item or be able to say it.

The other issue is that when the cookie is out of sight, the child might not have the ability to ask for it. A third issue is when adults try to have the child put “please” on the end of all requests by prompting “cookie please.” This can be a problem for a child who is just learning to speak and may make their language harder to understand.

Here’s what I recommend Instead: It’s much more meaningful and important for a child to be able to request an item, for example “cookie,” than for us to try to make them say “please,” which is really abstract and usually a meaningless word to young, early learners with autism.

Once your child can request items, in this case “cookie,” it would be more useful to work on them being specific with their request. For example, “chocolate chip cookie” or “sugar cookie” are more meaningful and specific than “cookie, please” where “please” isn’t actually adding more information.

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