Nice Hands is the action of using one’s hands appropriately, such as keeping one’s hands to themselves or having gentle hands and not doing things like hitting, throwing, scratching and so on.
There can actually be many reasons children with autism may not have nice hands, so before teaching the instruction ‘Nice Hands’, it is important to understand why the child is not having nice hands.
In our Starter Kit on Managing Challenging Behaviours, the first step to managing and reducing a challenging behaviour is to understand why it is happening. Is it to get something or get away from something? A child who throws an object could easily be doing it to:
When seeing a child throwing, hitting or hand-flapping, the adult’s first instinct can easily be to tell them, “Don’t throw”, “Stop hitting”, or “No scratching”. Not only is a lot of attention given to the inappropriate behaviour, it does not inform the child what they should be doing instead.
Teaching ‘Nice Hands’ diverts attention away from the inappropriate behaviour and focuses attention on the expected behaviour.
A child should be able to sit nicely for at least 3 to 5 minutes before learning this skill, as learning at the table is the best way to learn the skill clearly.
1. ‘Nice Hands’ Social Story (Download Here): This explains to the child what Nice Hands look like and don’t look like.
2. A ‘Nice Hand’s token board (Download here): This clearly states “First Nice Hands, then reward.”
Token boards vary by the number of tokens they have on them, be it one, five, ten or fifteen. How many tokens a child can wait for until they get their reward varies from child to child, but a good starting point is five. More tokens can always be added later.
3. Timer: Shows the child clearly how long they need to have Nice Hands for.
The skill of Nice Hands can be broken down by duration. In this example, it is broken down to a maximum of 1 minute.
The duration is short because it can be unrealistic to expect a child to sit quietly at the table with nice hands for extended durations, without doing anything. As duration gets longer, tokens are also spaced out for longer.
As the duration reaches past 30 seconds, it is good to have an easy activity the child knows how to do out while waiting for the timer to beep. It is important to praise them for having ‘Nice Hands’ still, so they do not think they are being rewarded for completing the work.
Once Nice Hands has been learned at the table, it must be generalised in various settings, which can involve bringing the token board to these settings too. Here are a few ways Nice Hands can be generalised:
Always begin with the easiest natural situations, before progressing to harder situations.
1. Child has Nice Hands for a short time before they start hitting again
Backtrack to the last duration they were most successful at and practice that a few more times until the child has truly mastered the skill (usually three times across three separate occasions). One should also check if motivation is strong enough.
2. Child still throws and pushes things around the house
Preventing challenging behaviours should still comprise 90% of our energy. Some of the ways we can prevent challenging behaviours like these include:
10% of our energy is spent on reacting to the behaviour, and the way we react should not accidentally reinforce the behaviour.