Two Things I Learned Today(#407)

Neither of these is earth-shattering, but they are small steps to (I hope) understanding how to better help Charlie learn to his fullest potential. Charlie has been doing so well these days—better than ever, really, at home, at school, everywhere—and I hope that I can keep learning to do the right things to help him.
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Thing #1 has to do with behavior and, specifically, with Charlie’s toughest behavior, head-banging. Behavior, while not exactly a “fighting word“—a word evoking heated argument and controversy like “mercury” or “prenatal genetic testing “—does evoke a strong response: It is understandable why one might object to one’s child being described as nothing more than “a bunch of behaviors” and for parents to recoil at Skinnerian terminology like “operant conditioning,” “discriminative stimulus,” and “noncontingent reinforcement.”

And yet—I received an email from another parent awhile ago asking me “how did you work on Charlie’s SIB’s without using a helmet or restraining?”

My short answer: ABA. My longer answer: Teaching Charlie “replacement behaviors,” which is a codeword for reading, solid play skills, asking for “help” and for attention. And us (Jim and I, teachers, therapists) all learning to read the signs when Charlie is agitated—his face becomes blankly unresponsive, his voice tone changes to low or high, moving his arms in a certain way—and then upping demands on him, while clearly indicating why he is doing those demands.

For instance: Charlie hopped off the school bus at 1.10pm and paced a bit in the front yard, heat wave heat and all. He plopped himself in a chair and just sat, then asked to see the photos on my computer. Meanwhile, Grandpa was taking the elevator chair down and getting into the white car to go visit Grandma in the rehab hospital and Jim was helping him. I had told Charlie we had to go out to run errands before his ABA therapist came but Charlie zoomed out into the black car soon as he saw Grandpa heading out. Jim and I summoned Charlie back inside—-in the past, once Charlie is in the car, we have to go without his turning back, or A Behavior results.

Today, after getting Charlie inside, I immediately pulled out a new dinosaur puzzle, which Charlie speedily put together. He was clearly agitated from the haunted glint of his eyes and called “puzzle piece! puzzle, puzzle, puzzle piece!” at first. But, while he did the puzzle faster than usual (and it was a puzzle he had never done before), the frazzled look slid from Charlie’s face. I could see that, by answering his potential tantrum—and SIB, perhaps—by asking him to do something cognitive and challenging, Charlie was able to channel his worried energy into thinking and problem-solving, if you will. Instead of his agitation resulting in me being “easy” on him and letting him go off to do whatever, I gave him a clearly structured task and Charlie got over his anxiety, with no tantrum or “behavior” ensuing (he even cleaned up without my asking). The day passed nicely. Charlie listened seriously to my reminder of “not getting fries at the pool” and swam better than ever, bobbing up and down in the water over his head and blowing bubbles before swimming on his back.

Thing #2 I learned is that, give Charlie a larger amount of food—a big homemade spring roll—-and he throws it, but not a smaller one.

When this happened at dinner tonight I followed the lead of Charlie’s teacher and gave him what I hoped might be the appropriate language—-“I don’t want spring roll”—I did not make a big deal of it. The floor was cleaned up, Charlie finished his dinner and took a fast shower and was waiting for Jim to come home and crawl into bed, very tired.

Maybe it’s really three Things that I learned today–Thing #3 being “don’t make a big deal out of it.” Note what happened, of course, but there’s no need for a ruckus.

It’s Autismland and there’s a lot more I have to learn.

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Comments
5 Responses to “Two Things I Learned Today(#407)”
  1. tara says:

    Channeling anxiety and the worried energy into thinking and problem solving- I am definitely going to give that a try! I think I may get too bogged down in the moment of the impending tantrum instead of being creative and redirecting that energy into something equally challenging. Thanks for this post Kristina.

  2. Aspie Dad says:

    I love it! Replacement behaviors and redirection are the name of the game around here. With Aspie Boy it is a sudden drop in verbal use and a certain tone of voice he gets. (as an aside, it does often sound like you’re hearing someone else, easy to see how tales of possession may have arisen.) But that is when the parental song and dance really (metaphorically) kicks in with ‘let’s go over here’ where we don’t hit and throw things and hurt ourselves.

    All part of trying to get the board up on top of that big oncoming wave and not get sucked under and ground into the sand. Again.

    I *really* like your technique of channeling that energy into thinking and problem-solving, Kristina. That goes in the tool kit, like, NOW! πŸ™‚

    Maybe I should try it with myself… πŸ˜‰

    Great post.

  3. Aspie dad, a tantrum as a “big oncoming wave” that can suck one under—-that’s just what it feels like! Too often we’ve responded to Charlie getting anxious by trying to “make things easy” but more and more that just seems to make his agitation continue, if not worsen. I will have to find other activities besides puzzles, though—–Tara, it _is_ really hard to think creatively (and to think at all, I sometimes find) when Charlie is upset. I’ve worked hard to remind myself that if I’m calm—if I “model” calmness for him—-it’s a good part of the process.

  4. Julia says:

    Sam was dumping capsules out of vitamin jars a couple of weeks ago, then lining them up on the kitchen floor.

    After I had him help me pick them all up, I pulled out some dominoes and told him that if he wanted to play with things on the kitchen floor, he could play with the dominoes. And they’re a lot more interesting than vitamin capsules. πŸ™‚ (And the bottles are further out of reach now.) I’m having to be careful not to trip on dominoes at times now, but it’s a compromise we can live with right now.

    (He needs something to do in a space away from his younger siblings — those two can be quite a handful, and it gets frustrating when someone keeps messing with your Lego bin or singing the alphabet song 20 or 30 times in an hour. He wants to be downstairs with the rest of us rather than upstairs in his room a lot of the time.)

  5. It is the same with Charlie. He wants to be with us and for us to be paying attention to him—engaging in some repetitive activity that he knows I may well redirect him from!

    Haven’t used vitamin capsules yet, but definitely numerous small pieces of furniture.

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