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Knowing Your Child’s Rights in ABA Therapy: Assent and Assent Withdrawal

While we know how important consent is in ABA therapy, how much consent are children really giving when instructors are working with them?

Are they ok with the amount of prompting?

Do they want to learn the skills being taught?

Do they want to have the instructor around their personal space?

Most people think that consent from individuals with intellectual disabilities means asking their parents or caregivers, but there are many ways that these individuals can speak for themselves and let you know how they feel about therapy, and this all comes from whether or not they give assent.

What is Assent?

Simply put, assent occurs when an individual verbally or nonverbally agrees to participate in treatment (Dalphonse, 2022). This may seem easy enough to understand as a concept, but unfortunately, many of the signs are missed or misinterpreted by instructors and parents (Dalphonse, 2022).

Some of the signs can be seen as challenging behaviours that need to be

shaped and redirected, and this is very problematic (Dalphonse, 2022).

Signs of Assent & Assent Withdrawal

It is important that these signs are recognized and honoured by those

around the individuals.

Some signs that your child can exhibit to show assent can include:

  • smiling,

  • looking towards the therapist/instructor,

  • actively engaging and participating,

  • cooperation,

  • reaching for the therapist,

  • making affirmative statements (Dalphonse, 2022).

Signs that may show assent withdrawal can be:

  • aggression,

  • eloping (leaving the room),

  • turning away from the therapist/materials,

  • frowning and crying

  • Saying "no", "I don't want to (Dalphonse, 2022).

At any time, assent and assent withdrawal can happen!

How Can Assent-Based Learning Be Implemented

1. Using functional communication to teach self-advocacy statements

  1. “I need help.”

  2. “I don’t want to do this right now.”

  3. “I don’t like the way you’re teaching me.”

  4. “I want to do it my way.”

It is always important to encourage your child to use functional language and teaching them what to say if they want to refuse work should also be included in their verbal repertoire.

2. When the child tries to escape, reinforce this behaviour.

They are communicating that they do not want to be there, and this should be

honoured. Of course, they can be given a chance to use their words at this point while still being allowed to escape (e.g., “I need a break” “I want to stop”)

Will this mean that your child will be reinforced to continue wanting to escape? It might, but it also shows that they are respected, and that others are listening to them and what they want.

This also helps to reinforce and encourage your child to use their words or more

appropriate behaviours to escape as opposed to more aggressive, potentially dangerous behaviours.

3. Change the learning environment

  • Maybe there is something in the environment that is bothering your child

  • Maybe they are bored, tired, having been sitting too long

  • Maybe the work is too hard

Anyone in an uncomfortable working environment would want to not continue being there, and this is no different for your child

What About Compliance?

While compliance is something that every individual does need to follow through with from time to time, the use of it should be very limited.

Compliance during safety protocols or with authority figures that need to be listened to (e.g., police officers) are important, and this can also be taught to your child. However, it should not be the main source of getting your child to

listen during learning opportunities.

Just compliance can mean your child is just going through the motions and not really learning anything.

Instead, what is more important is cooperation, this way, the child is engaged and listening, and more likely to retain the information they learned.

At the end of the day, it is important to teach your child to advocate for themselves, and one of the most important ways to do that is to listen to them when they are not giving assent. For anyone who does not want to participate in an activity, we listen and collaborate, and this should not be any different for a child with autism.

If you're interested in enrolling your child in an assent-based learning ABA program, click here to schedule a free consultation to learn more about our services.


Dalphonse, A. (2022). Understanding assent and assent withdrawal in ABA. Master ABA. understanding-assent-and-assent-withdrawal-in-aba/


Holloway, P., Laney, H., & Miller, M. (n.d.). Consent and assent. 

[MOOC]. PFA and SBTCommunity.


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