The Limits of ABA 2: Keeping it Fun and Flexible
I noted we had a lovely Sunday—actually, the whole weekend was lovely. After the previous week's really rough Sunday and then last Monday when Charlie was in a crisis situation due to extreme anxiety over his pending transition to the big autism center, Halloween passed quite pleasantly. We were more worried about Sunday, especially as one of the last things Charlie said on Saturday night was "school tomorrow." He actually has a quite strong sense of the weekdays vs. the weekend, and we suspected this statement attested further to his recent heightened anxiety.
Sure enough, Charlie awoke at 6.15am on Sunday and wanted to get dressed. Fortunately, we'd all had an extra hour of sleep thanks to the return to regular time. Charlie got briefly over-anxious and Jim hurried to where he was in the kitchen, and I got Charlie's clothes and started puttering around. Charlie set himself to pacing and pulling on his worry beads and told us he wanted to be left alone. I decided to stick to a part of my routine—a morning run—and Jim waved me off. When I returned, it was to two guys hoisting themselves onto their bikes.
Jim called me after 20 minutes: They'd met a couple of dogs and Charlie had been crying the whole ride. I met them at the bagel store where, though it was bit chilly but we still sat outside and Charlie enjoyed two "mishmash" bagels (don't worry, he's not overdoing the gluten, he mostly gnaws away at the outsides for the seeds).
Yes, this is the same bagel store where a sudden neurological storm overcame Charlie last Sunday and the owner and a worker had to help me. Jim and I wanted to be able to go back with Charlie, albeit in a different way than before. The bagel store isn't that big and Sunday morning it's always packed, especially in the back where there's a carry-out line. Jim and I decided to take the path of least resistance: Jim waited with Charlie at an outside table, and I got the bagels.
We've tended to avoid those "paths of least resistance" over the years, in favor of "pushing" Charlie. The intense, highly structured ABA program in our school district—like (some, not all) other private ABA schools and programs—takes more of the position that if there's resistance, we've got to work on that and, too, work against it.
This is most apparent in regard to a "problem behavior" like stimming or self-stimulatory behavior. Jim and I have come to see these as self-regulatory and self-calming mechanisms or actions that, in Charlie's case, help him to process sensory data and to soothe himself. Most of the ABA programs that Charlie has been in over the years have called for "extinguishing" and/or "redirecting" such "problem behaviors" (which, compared to some of the things Charlie can do, are no problem at all). We've generally found that the more we've tried to prevent, stop, block, stimming, the more Charlie does it. Obviously a behavior like head-banging can't just be "let be," but humming and stomping and the occasional twirl serve their purposes for Charlie.
I'm still processing all the comments from yesterday's post on The Limits of ABA. (I'm also trying to prepare a class on the ancient Olympic Games and the Persian Wars–something called the hoplitodromos ties them together—for Tuesday morning; will be responding about ABA more fully as the week unfolds). Teaching Charlie is a topic near and dear to all of our efforts to help him live in the world; it's all about not only how to teach him, but how to be with him. We're not "giving up" on ABA entirely: Teaching at the new center that Charlie is going to is based on ABA (and, to some extent, as Emma and others pointed out yesterday, there's some "behaviorism" at the basis of all teaching: Would my students keep learning more Latin grammar, more declensions and verb tenses, just for the love of it, or for the grades and their GPA?). And Jim and I very much want to have Charlie's former Lovaas consultant observing him regularly.
That consultant oversaw Charlie's home program back in 2005-2007 and the two words that came up again and again in conversations with her were "fun" and "flexible." We worked through stimming rather than seeking to "extinguish" it and when Charlie struggled, she always directed the therapists and us to look at how we were teaching and if we were really motivating Charlie. That is, we did our best to make our teaching "fit" Charlie, rather than the reverse.
Reflecting on this, and not wanting to revert to be in "hide in the house stay only in the usual neighborhood places due to potential crisis situations" mode, Charlie and I went to meet Jim in Hoboken on Sunday night. Jim was speaking at 4pm at the Hoboken Museum and how we wanted to be there in what was (Jim reported) a packed room! But just getting to Hoboken seemed that it would be enough, and so, after gassing up the car, Charlie and I got on the Garden State Parkway and took the Pulaski Skyway to the end, and made the left turn to the Mile Square City. We turned onto Washington Avenue and drove through pretty much most of Hoboken and snagged a parking place (only half-painted yellow) a block from the museum, where we waited at least a half-hour till I contacted Jim on his phone and he emerged from the museum.
Charlie had been requesting "spring rolls" and I'd found an Asian fusion sort of restaurant in Hoboken that made them and we went there afterwards. It was all new. This restaurant was a bit more upscale than the places we usually go to and the summer rolls came out artfully arranged on a ceramic plate. Charlie quickly ate them and then poked at the vermicelli noodles he usually wolfs down; he had some of my Thai noodles, a few more pokes of his, and then asked for his coat, and to the car we went. Once home, after a shower and donning his pajamas, Charlie headed for the refrigerator. Before too long, about half of its contents (leftovers of a noodle sort, watermelon, soy ice cream, frozen edamame, a condiment or two) and a few things from the cupboard (saltines) were arrayed on the table and counters and more or less eaten. That growing boy thing, I guess you could say.
A growing boy needs an educational program that can grow with him and his changing needs.