Thursday, September 15, 2016

Therapy Tip- The Problem with "OK"

Today is Therapy Thursday! It's the day I share a tip based upon my experience as a mother of a child with special needs and a pediatric speech-language pathologist.

Today's tip is:

The Problem with "OK"

When I was a graduate student, I spent a semester working in my university's Center for Autism as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) in training. At that time, the SLPs worked along side of those training in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

If there is one thing I remember most in our group sessions, it was Dr. Anthony Cuvo, a professor and clinical supervisor of the ABA clinicians and autism program, and his hatred of the word "OK." If anyone said the word OK to a child when we were giving them a direction, we would surely hear about it from him later.

I tried not to say "OK" when I was in group sessions treating children with autism, but it came out so naturally! After he educated us on the problems with saying "OK" when giving directives to a child, it all made sense. Though I found it hard to do!

Here in America we often say "OK" at the end of a direction. For example: "You need to go clean your room. OK?" "Put it in the box. OK?"  "Let's all get ready to have a bathroom break. OK?"

When we put an OK at the end of the sentence, we usually add it in to mean, "Did you hear me?"

Dr. Cuvo stressed to us that adding "OK" at the end of a directive was actually a way to give the child an out. It is as if we are asking the child if they want to complete the direction. When we add "OK," we are allowing the child to answer yes/no.

If they say no, then what are we going to do? We essentially asked them if they were OK with our direction. If they say no, we were the ones who foolishly offered them an out. Their refusal to comply is in part our fault.

Maybe in your part of the world, OK is not said very much. But, here where I live, OK is added in more than people realize. I had to really pay attention to what I was saying to the children I was treating. I had to make an effort to say things with no gray areas that also made a firmer stance. I had to remind myself that the direction I want them to follow should be firm, simple, and give no options for refusal.

All these years later, this principle has stuck with me, so now I pass it to you.

The direction should be the direction and nothing more. It should definitely not contain "OK" in it!

You may be reading this thinking this is a very small word to take an issue with, but sometimes the small things have a big impact.

Your challenge this week: Watch how often you say "OK" when giving your child a direction. Make an effort to give the direction and nothing more.

Think you can do it?
OK! Give it a try!

Therapy Thursday is for educational purposes only and not intended as therapeutic advice.


  1. Along the same lines (and now you've got me thinking about how often I might use okay) - I kept getting notes home from DCs work/day program saying he was refusing to do what was asked of him. I know my child and I know that he would never say no to something his boss asked him to do. As it turned out, when it was time to let's say weed the garden they would say "DC do you want to start weeding now?" As if it was a choice and a question, so of course he would answer "no"

    1. He was certainly a good listener with his response! Our wording in directions is so important.


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