by Marcia Hinds – Megan and Ryan’s Mom
The key to helping our kids is to ignore inappropriate behaviors as much as possible and to reward the behaviors you want to see more of. Sometimes for our children it is hard to discover what is rewarding but I say use the things they love or obsess about to teach them. Eliminating inappropriate behavior is all about increasing their self-esteem.
Pick the one behavior that bugs you the most and concentrate on eliminating just that behavior. Our behavior expert, Mindi, told us told us not to correct too many behaviors at once because my son would have difficulty making the correct stimulus-response association and might get the idea he couldn’t do anything right. She strongly advised us to pick one behavior and work on extinguishing only that behavior. She also warned us that any time you try to eliminate an undesirable behavior, the behavior increases before it goes away.
Mindi, (our behavior expert) emphasized that rewarding a behavior means using a reward that is important to Ryan, not necessarily what is important to us. And always look for that one thing Ryan did right during a day and reward him for it with something he values. Ignore all the unacceptable things Ryan did. We were to mostly ignore his inappropriate behaviors, until they became the targeted behavior we were trying to eliminate. That was the theory.
But, it was easier said than done. Still, Ryan’s JAWS impression had to go.
Ryan would frequently bite his sister, Megan, or squeeze her arm until she cried. In the past, I had reacted with angry words, threats, or bribes. Now, I was ready to launch an ABA missile at him. We used our secret weapon.
That we called THE CHAIR! It was kind of like “Time Out” for children with autism.
Newly armed with Mindi’s unbreakable rules, lots of telephone support, and a weekend of training, I decided it was time to target a specific behavior and march on until we won the battle. I was stunned when it actually started to work.
Whenever Ryan bit, squeezed, or scratched anyone, I calmly took him by the hand and sat him in a chair set up in our playroom. I sat in another chair positioned directly in front of his. Next, I demanded that he do what I asked, but I only chose behaviors that I knew he could perform.
I would demand he do something like I knew he knew how to do. I might say, “Stand up.”
When he did, I praised him for his good behavior, “Good job, Ryan!”
“Touch your head. Good, Ryan!”
When he did two behaviors correctly in a row, I would say, “Okay. Go play.” And then let him leave and escape from me and my demands.
If he failed to comply, we kept going (sometimes it felt like forever) He had to follow my directions and do what I asked two times to escape from me and the chair. Just as Mindi predicted, Ryan’s biting and scratching increased when we first introduced this compliance drill. However, it wasn’t long before he learned that to be free from our ABA demands, all he had to do was to stop biting and do what we told him to do when we told him to do it.
It sounded so easy, but it wasn’t.
There I was, doing laundry, cooking something I didn’t want to eat, remembering to talk to Megan and wondering if Frank would talk to me, when Ryan would do something and I would have to hit the pause button to do an ABA drill over and over — all day long — every day. I had to do this immediately whenever the inappropriate behavior occurred.
I couldn’t let Ryan see my uncertainty about using ABA. I knew if I showed any weakness, he would own me. Actually, he already did, and I needed to change that dynamic. It was difficult to remain calm as I lead him to the chair for what felt like the hundredth time that day. In reality, I was ready to do him bodily harm, but I couldn’t show that. And I could only chose one behavior at a time to eliminate.
My success made me want more success. After the biting was gone, I picked another behavior that needed to go. Ryan used to go up to people and grind his chin into their shoulder or another body part. We referred to this as chinning. I no longer cared that this behavior had a nice, neat, sensory integration explanation that would require a never-ending series of occupational therapy sessions to stop.
The chinning had to go, N-O-W! It went.
As we became more proficient with basic ABA, we added more complex behavior techniques. We used the shaping technique to help him learn new things or when we needed him to comply with our commands. If he refused to “Stand up,” I would gently help him stand and at the same time say, “Good!”
We always and immediately rewarded any behavior that came close to the behavior we were trying to teach. We shaped his response by allowing a successive approximation of the desired behavior we actually wanted from Ryan. This carefully crafted step-by-step process changes behavior. That’s the theory, and as with basic ABA, it is easier explained than done.
One day, I tried to show Ryan how to move a game piece around the Sorry game while counting out loud. He just couldn’t do it. My pre-Mindi interpretation was Ryan was being defiant. My post-Mindi interpretation was that it didn’t matter why Ryan did what he did. My son just needed to move that stupid blue plastic piece around the board, and do what his mother said.
That was a big learning moment for me. Before, when I believed he was being stubborn and difficult, he really wasn’t. Dr. Harvey’s scans helped me understand why he acted as he did. Instead of getting mad at him, like I so often did, I decided to try a more effective method. This time, I started to encourage and praise him when he barely got close to doing the task correctly. I shaped his behavior by putting my hand on his and helping him count and move the game piece. Anything close to the behavior I was trying to teach him was celebrated.
It took me more than a hundred attempts [no exaggeration] before he demonstrated the behavior of counting while moving the piece from one square to the next. In this situation, behavior shaping worked much better than the constant corrections of old-school ABA. This was a victory for both of us.
NOTE FROM MARCIA HINDS – Megan and Ryan’s mom:
Ryan became an aerospace engineer, because he received proper medical treatment combined with behavioral, and educational interventions. To preview my book, “I Know You’re In There – winning our war against autism” go to Amazon or my website www.autism-and-treatment.com
Contact info for Marcia:
Cell Phone: 805 796-8213 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I have doctors lists by where you live, and the interventions and medications that helped my son the most. There is also more info to help on my website.