Autistic Child Refuses To Do Anything? Here’s How to Help

As parents, it can be very difficult to get your children to do something you ask them to do. When you add in an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, that difficulty tends to skyrocket. This can create problems both at school and at home. So, what do you do when your autistic child refuses to do anything you ask?

Let’s look at the challenges caused by autistic children refusing to do anything. What might cause these challenges, and what are some ways to encourage the child to do what is asked and required of them?

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Autism Behavior Interventions

Reasons why an autistic child might refuse to do something

Why does your autistic child refuse to do anything? That may be difficult to determine, but it will be harder to get them to agree to do something if you don’t understand the reasoning behind the refusal.

There are several potential causes for this behavior. They include:

  • sensory overload,
  • communication issues,
  • anxiety,
  • social challenges,
  • and difficulty transitioning from one task to another.

From personal experience, my children with autism have often refused to do an activity due to sensory challenges and anxiety issues. My older son gets anxious eating around new people. His refusal to eat would eventually lead to stomach pains related to hunger later in the day and sometimes sickness.

My younger son refuses to enter a public bathroom. He has auditory sensory issues, and the echoes in public bathrooms can become too much for him, especially if someone uses the automatic hand dryer. But knowing these causes has made it easier to address the refusal and get both of my sons to do things asked of them.

What can you do to manage these behaviors?

While it’s certainly difficult to deal with an autistic child who refuses to do anything, there are things every parent can do to encourage their children with autism to take part in activities. Each child will require a unique approach, and patience is necessary. There are some tips to help.

1. Incorporate special interests

If your child has something that interests them, incorporate it to get them to do something. Some kids may love a certain television show. For example, if there are cookbooks based on that television show, you could use them to make a special meal with your child. This can help them overcome their anxiety about eating because they want to try the dish that’s connected to their favorite television show.

Kids meal toast shaped like a fish

In the school environment, teachers can use your child’s special interests to help encourage them to take part in preferred activities. This may lead to an increase in schoolwork completed and fewer disciplinary instances at your child’s school.

2. Use visual supports

Visual support can go a long way in helping autistic kids who may have trouble transitioning from one task to another. These supports can include schedules, task lists, and social stories. Autistic children can see what is expected of them and when allowing them to process what they are being asked to do.

My wife and I used a visual timetable to help encourage my son with his chores at home. He could visually see our expectations and understood the possibilities for rewards for good behavior or clear consequences for not listening.

He was still a kid, so it didn’t always work, but it was effective in encouraging him to clean his room. These supports also serve as a communication skills enhancer for some autistic kids.

They allowed him to see his chores in a more meaningful way. He was able to break the tasks up rather than becoming overwhelmed with all he had to do.

3. Create a supportive environment

Many autistic children tend to thrive in a more structured environment. Routine changes and spontaneity don’t always work for those with autism spectrum disorders. It’s up to parents to create a supportive environment at home and teachers to create one at the child’s school.

If an environment is too loud or too bright, it can take a toll on the child’s mental health and lead to them refusing to do certain activities.

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Parents and teachers can recognize sensory challenges that may be causing problems for the child and address them. Once the environment is supportive, the autistic child is more likely to respond to requests for certain activities.

4. Work on social skills

Autistic children who struggle with social skills may not be motivated to engage in activities at home, out and about, or in school. Working with your child can improve their motivation and lead to them wanting to take part in certain activities.

Parents can promote social skills improvements through things like structured playdates and the use of social stories. These strategies can improve social situations, give the child a sense of support, and reduce anxiety levels.

5. Give them a choice

A child is more likely to take part in an activity if they are interested in it. While it may not be easy to get them interested, giving them a choice over which activity is performed can lead to more motivation to complete it.

Offering options allows for a sense of control even if both tasks have to be performed. Kids will often pay more attention when expected tasks are presented as a choice.

Each child is different, so the choices have to be presented to each child differently. Parents and teachers need to present them in a way that allows the child to keep their focus on the choices and feel support and understanding from adults.

Just putting the options in front of them can lead to them feeling overwhelmed and create other issues.

6. Seek professional help

If children with autism spectrum disorder continue to struggle with requests to do certain activities, parents can and should know they are not alone.

Reach out to a professional for help. The child may need an official diagnosis of pathological demand avoidance, a condition connected to autism where the child has an obsessive need to resist demands or requests.

Parents in therapy with a child

If a child suffers from pathological demand avoidance, it can take a toll on the emotional well-being of the autistic child, the parents, or a teacher trying to help the child. Professionals can help you remain calm and work on strategies to help your kids without feeling frustrated.

7. Be patient

This is the only advice with autistic children I’ve ever experienced to be universal. You can’t rush anything. Some children may require more time to process information. Other children may struggle with communication skills. Still, others may just need time to adjust to changes.

For many children, rushing them can lead to self-confidence issues, feelings of frustration, and a lack of understanding. These can also contribute to outbursts of emotions that cause meltdowns or other troubles. Practice specific strategies and use them repetitively to help everyone remain calm.

Patience and understanding lead the way

Some autistic children will refuse to take part in activities you want, need, or ask them to do. It can be difficult, but there are ways to encourage and foster their participation.

Parents can find out why autistic children are refusing to cooperate and adjust the environment to make it work better. Be patient and understanding to help continue fostering receptive behaviors among autistic children.


Q: Why is my child with autism refusing to cooperate?

A: Autistic people can refuse to cooperate for a variety of reasons. Some of them include sensory overload, routine changes, difficulty processing emotions, and struggles to understand social cues.

Q: How do you deal with an autistic refusal?

A: Parents should remain patient when experiencing autism refusal from their children. They should also pause between words and use repetitive phrases to help the child process the request. Clear communication, along with a specialized request, can help change a child’s mind when they are refusing to do anything.

Q: Is stubbornness linked to autism?

A: Many autistic people also experience bouts of stubbornness. Research has found sensory connections and links between autism and stubbornness.

Q: How do you deal with an angry autistic child?

A: When an autistic child is angry, parents have to find a way to help them calm down. Some ways to address this include clear communication, structure, identifying emotional or sensory triggers, and offering an alternative solution.


Michelle Grenier & Pat Yeaton (2019) Social Thinking Skills and Cooperative Learning for Students with Autism, Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 90:3, 18-21

Kaartinen, M., Puura, K., Pispa, P., Helminen, M., Salmelin, R., Pelkonen, E., Juujärvi, P., Kessler, E. B., & Skuse, D. H. (2019). Associations between cooperation, reactive aggression and social impairments among boys with autism spectrum disorder. Autism, 23(1), 154-166

Munkhaugen, E. K., Torske, T., Gjevik, E., Nærland, T., Pripp, A. H., & Diseth, T. H. (2019). Individual characteristics of students with autism spectrum disorders and school refusal behavior. Autism, 23(2), 413-423


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