Handling Resistance to Everyday Life

Sorrowful teenager on psychologist appointment, feeling guilty about behavior
Adaptive & Problematic Behavior, Applied Behavior Analysis, Autism, Blog, Education

Being able to actively participate in health and hygiene-focused activities is an important part of staying healthy. Yet, for some individuals, including those with autism spectrum disorder, developmental disability, or sensory sensitivities, the demands of everyday life and routine care (e.g., bathing, brushing teeth, doctor visits, dentist visits, haircuts) can sometimes seem overwhelming. When these activities are especially challenging, they may even result in significant avoidance, fear, problem behaviors, and/or tears. 

Problem behaviors can prevent active engagement in receiving necessary care both in and out of the home setting. Receiving appropriate care at the doctor or dentist, for example, is challenging to do if most of the visit is focused on managing behaviors and big emotions. Depending on the severity of the issue, some individuals require treatment to overcome these challenges. Our team can help through a time-limited assessment and planning process followed by a varying number of direct treatment and parent or caregiver training sessions. Strategies that our team can employ may include but are not limited to:

Parent and Caregiver Training

Parents and caregivers are a critical part of success in this area because they are often the ones faced with maintaining daily hygiene and routine visits. Our team is highly sensitive to a family’s needs and capacity and can work with you to develop a plan for success with everyday life.


Priming is a way to help someone prepare for upcoming activities. Essentially, priming is a
“preview” provided before participation. The goal is for the individual to become familiar with the activities that will be presented. This may include but is not limited to:

  • Books focused on the topic
  • Communicating to an individual the steps involved before participation
  • Practicing/role-playing what to expect
  • Individualized “stories” presented through pictures or text about what’s going to happen

Systematic Desensitization

If someone is anxious and avoidant of something due to fear, systematic desensitization may be used. In systematic desensitization, individuals gradually learn to manage their anxiety in the face of increasingly challenging situations that resemble the activity they were trying to avoid. Systematic desensitization strategies require specific training and expertise to be effective.

Positive Reinforcement

In layman’s terms, positive reinforcement is encouraging a behavior with rewards. For the best results, the behaviors must be clearly defined, and the reinforcers managed in a way that ensures success. Experts in behavior can make sure this is effectively used and you don’t spin your wheels.

Differential Reinforcement

Differential reinforcement is a powerful tool for teaching appropriate alternative behaviors or “replacement behaviors.” Since problem behavior is often used by someone who has communication challenges to share their feelings and needs, providing alternate ways to get their needs met is essential. 

Behavior Chaining

Behavior chaining refers to a method of teaching where sequences of individual behaviors are linked together. A clinician starts by developing a detailed task analysis to identify the smaller “steps” that make up a behavior chain. You may be surprised to find how many individual steps are involved in the task of brushing your teeth! By breaking a complex behavior into its smaller components, small skill deficits can be identified and addressed.

It is important to get a handle on behaviors related to resistance to everyday life before bad habits are entrenched. Poor experiences can create trauma and make future attempts to participate increasingly challenging. If you are experiencing challenges with getting through the activities of everyday life, contact our office today for a consultation and let our experienced clinicians work with you to create a brighter, more successful future!