Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Managing Negative Behaviors With #Autism & #ADHD

I am a member of a lot of autism pages on FB, and I read a lot of autism related blogs, ect.  There is a recurrent theme that I see played out everyday. It's hard for me to address it as a general concept because I don't do general concepts very well. I am a detailed thinker.  I am going to try, because this subject is very important to me.

I'd like to discuss the way I see parents handling their child's 'behaviors'. I really dislike that word,  behaviors. Let's call it responses. That's what they are. Everything a child (and let's face it, people in general) does is a direct response to a trigger. The trigger can be negative, or positive.  It can be physical, something that can be felt with the senses, or private, something that is only evident to the person feeling it, but nonetheless just as valid.  Since a person who is on the spectrum senses the world differently parents have to parent differently. I think this is a hard thing for parents to know how to do that. It's even harder for other caregivers, such as teachers, who may not have any experience with your child before suddenly noticing what appears to be 'naughty' behaviors    responses.

Let's go with a common one that I hear almost daily.The following is an example only, and does not represent any one person.

 Little Johnny walked up to James and punched him. When the teacher saw, she thought to herself, "oh, here we go again! Johnny is such a brat. I am tired of him. He needs some serious discipline. I'm going to let him know he can't behave this way. His parents really need to do something about him. I'm going to let them know about how much I don't appreciate their child's behavior in my classroom!"  The teacher doesn't understand Johnny's autism. She thinks he's naughty and already has that biased in her mind that he is, which means she's always on the lookout for behavior to correct from Johnny. She feels compelled to let him know that his tactics will not work in her class. Any positive behavior is now overlooked by her and negative behavior is exemplified. She relentlessly calls and emails Johnny's mother, who feels embarrassed that her child is misbehaving.  Maybe, she feels angry that the teacher doesn't handle it very well, but since in our society having a child that acts out is seen as parental failure Johnny's mother feels powerless.  She sees this situation as a reflection on her parenting ability and allows the teacher to talk down to her, back her in a corner and influence how she deals with Johnny when he gets home.  Johnny's mom makes decisions based on her emotional reaction to the situation, which is to punish Johnny for misbehaving.  This further frustrates Johnny.  The cause of his behavior is never addressed, he learns that he is always to blame, so he acts out more. The cycle continues until he's an adolescent and now angrier than ever is physically intimidating his family. Johnny has never been given the right supports to deal with his autism and his emotions. He has learned that he is always the bad guy, the wrong one, and that no one has his back. He acts like he feels, which is out of control. He lost the game before it even began.

Sound familiar? So what can you do?

*The first thing to do is to learn as much about autism as you can from those who have it. If you're here, there's a good chance you're already doing that.

*Make a decision that you will try to objectively view every behavior your child has as a direct response to something.  This means, try to get to their level and see through their eyes. It is unlikely that they are doing anything to just upset, or manipulate you. Get that out of your head now. Every behavior is a communication about a need. It's your job to figure out what the need is.

*Which brings me to the next part. Put on your detective hat. If you can't automatically figure out what your child keeps getting upset about, keep a behavior journal. Write down any emotion changes in a chart.  See if there are any patterns.

*Put on your advocacy hat. Don't let school officials talk you into the corner.  Be confident. If you struggle with this, find someone to help you.  I have not gotten one call from the school about either of my boy's behavior. They know that if they did, I'd demand a Functional Behavior Assessment and call a meeting. I would be in the classroom observing (which I do time to time anyway) to see what supports they need to be more successful.  The school staff know this. They know I expect them to support and respect my kids and will have to deal with the business end of a advocacy lawyer if they don't. 

*This point may raise a few hackles.  I'm going to put it anyway. It's what I truly believe. If the school can't get it right, or other program, then don't continue to send your child there. Sometimes, you can make the school or other program comply by law for certain things, but you can't control how they talk to or treat your child. My youngest qualifies for Extended School Year. I dislike the staff and have a strong feeling that things aren't always positive and on the up and up there. I don't send him.  He needs it and it's great for me to have that break, but it's more important to me that my son is treated well, so he does not attend summer school.  I never want him to feel like my needs come before his, or that I won't go out of my way to keep him safe.

*Do not punish meltdowns. Ever. Remember that a meltdown is a direct response to something. Solve the problem, and the behavior will go away.

*Learn about Positive Behavior Supports and how to be a consistent parent.

*Learn about sensory issues and how to help your child with those.

*Keep things on a routine as much as possible. Use visual schedules or written ones if your child needs it.  Remember that transitions are hard for us.  Count down before sudden changes. Example: "We will be going home from he park in 10 minutes" "We will be leaving in 5 minutes.." ect.. Don't just suddenly decide that things need to happen, then wonder why your child is suddenly aggressive, eloping, or crying.

*Learn about Executive Functioning issues. Use some of the strategies mentioned in the paragraph above to help your child best process information and prioritize time.

All of these things, if done for the ASD person, will provide an optimal level of support, and when ASD individuals are properly supported you will automatically see a decline in behaviors


27 comments:

  1. Thank you!! I wish I had something like this 2 years ago when my child was in Kindergarten, before we had a dx. The paragraph about Johnny was almost identical to our experience, and I'm ashamed to admit, especially the part about the parent's response. I'm getting better about being an advocate and learning more about how to handle the school and responses, in large part, thanks to people like you sharing things like this .

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    1. Thanks for the comment.I'm glad that it's getting easier for you. I remember it not being easy for me at first, either. I let the others make me feel bad about my son's ASD behaviors, which made me be less empathetic to him. I really thought that I was a bad parent.

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  2. And in terms of teaching all of these strategies work for neuro typical kids too.
    Wanted to smack Johnnys teacher in the chops.

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    1. Yes, they do work for all kids. I use these with my daughter, too. :)

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  3. Thank you for your post! This is something I'm struggling with right now and still trying to find my feet. Have you got an email? Unfortunately, I'm not on facebook. I wanted to ask some questions but would rather not post them publicly. Cheers

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    1. Yes. I will spell it out so that spammbots don't pick it up. I may take a few days to answer, but I promise I will reply, so don't think I'm ignoring you. serenedotdiversityatyahoodotcom

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  4. Last year, kindergarten was so hard. We had to fight with the school to change their behavior plan for our son. The cookie-cutter punishment-based plan didn't work for him. Through tons of research and advice from others (including you) we traveled the journey little Johnny's parents did, thankfully quickly. This year in a new school things are much better. I still struggle with feeling guilty and ashamed and judged, especially by other parents but ride it out knowing we are doing what our son needs. Thanks for this post!

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    1. You do great job with your son and you moved through that common experience (for parents of ASD kids) relatively quickly. Many are stuck there for years. I still feel somewhat unsure of my parenting choices sometimes when I feel judged by others. My son doesn't hit. He just cries a lot and I think a lot of people think that I baby him and that's why he behaves that way, so they try to remedy it by getting tougher on him, which obviously makes him cry more.

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  5. You have some excellent points, I love them all.

    I have struggled explaining to teachers and other parents while a person (or child) may not talk, they are communicating in other ways. Behavior is communication and sometimes the child with Autism it's the ONLY way they can communicate. When a child reacts, melts-down, talks out of turn, see that as communication and help them.

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    1. You're right, even with verbal kids a lot of the time they only can respond with behaviors. I think a kids are quite a bit this way, though. A lot of parents want to rule with the iron fist and it generally doesn't produce a terribly functional person, on or off the spectrum.

      Most of us do stuff for a reason and it isn't usually to harm or trick others. This sort of mindset could help in dealing with almost anyone.

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  6. Thank you Inner Aspie! I am so fortunate our school uses positived behavior supports. Punishment does not work for my son. On top of autism he has a tic disorder which is also made much worse by punishmnet. It is vital to educate!

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    1. Thank you for your comments and for sharing! I appreciate it!

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  7. I don't know why anyone would disagree with this article. It is based on fact for our kiddos and very helpful and informative. Thank you for this. I need to click on the links to learn more.
    Audrey

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    1. Thank you. I know the sort that would, and if it's the reason they unliked my page, then I think that was a good call, because me and them are not gonna be on the same page with much of anything. I've ran across several parents on other AS pages that run their home like a detention center. Every tiny infraction results in privileges taken away. They see it as 'my home. my rules.' They make no attempt to see it from their ASD child's POV. There is no compassion, or empathy. Only strict discipline or none at all, sometimes, until it's way too late.

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  8. I don't understand why anyone would disagree either! I think this is a solid piece! Sometimes it's difficult to stop my own reactions to some of my son's 'responses', but we understand him more and more.
    Yesterday he was completely overloaded, because he had a very busy week. He came back from preschool and started yelling at me, pushing me away and later on he began to cry quite hard, but he didn't want me to touch him at all, although he asked me to. I knew he didn't want to be touched, but that he wanted me in the room anyway. I managed to avoid a major meltdown and after a little while he came to me for a hug. He told me he loved me :) That tells me I did the right thing.
    I am so glad we finally have a few tools to calm him down when he needs to!

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    1. You're a great mom.Your son will benefit greatly from your parenting ability and love. Everyone so far in this thread are wonderful parents. I am grateful to know so many of you.

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  9. Good work! I can't understand why anyone would disagree with this either, unless they ARE that 'authoritarian' type of parent who wants to 'eliminate' their kid's autism, and sees any attempt to understand their kids as 'giving in' to the autism.

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    1. Thank you! I kinda wish they'd left a comment as to why they disagree, but then again maybe I don't!

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  10. Hi,
    Thanks a lot for sharing these insights! :)
    I'm among those finding out only as an adult what is "wrong" with all the others (i.e., that they're NTs... ^_^ ). I've been Little Johnny on some occassions, but as soon as I had accepted that role, things got better for me (even the grades I received...!).
    Finally, in class 9, I had to repeat a whole year (here in Germany, we don't have Summer school - Summer is for leisure, no matter If you screwed up in school...!), which was the best(!) experience I ever had in school: I learned that all the apocalyptic predictions had been wrong, i.e., that repeating a year is not the end of the world, that you can even find new friends in the new class you get put into, and that it may even have advantages in bully-handling If you enter a new social context after failing or "behaving badly" before: It gives you the authority of the older, more experienced guy...! ^__^
    Being a guy, I don't know the female/feminine ASD point-of-view. But from the male/masculine ASD POV, being seen as the "bad guy" may yield benevolent repercussions with your surroundings, from a certain age. On the other hand, though, the German school system is not as preoccupied with meddling in the students' futures, let alone "disciplining them" (the latter is widely regarded as a private matter the school must not interfere with, except in cases of domestic abuse). In German history, many great thinkers and scientists (also: educators like Kant or von Humboldt) have behaved excentrically, some may even have been on the spectrum. And all of them had been attending school, and they made it through! So the German edu.-system has a greater tolerance towards "non-behavers", as each(!) of them may, in the long Run, prove to be another Einstein.

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    1. Wow, the German education system sounds great. Here, it is all about conforming a child into obedient workers. Parents are looked down upon for not taking every opportunity to educate their autistic child, especially. My profoundly ASD son is eligible for a kind of summer school that is called Extended School Year, which is in another school with different staff and in the past I had felt that he was not treated well at this program, so I have declined all opportunities to send him since. They are threatening no respite care for me if I choose to not send him over the summer. I will stand my ground, because my responsibility is first and foremost to maintain the well being of my children.

      Thanks for stopping by to share your experience. I really enjoyed reading it and hope to read more in the future!

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  11. Thanks for this. It's really helpful for parents. We run courses that explore how children's brains work and have lots parents come along, who's children have a whole range of learning differences. Your suggested approaches match how a child's brain works rather than fighting with it. We are adapting our How Children Learn course (http://handinhandlearning.co.uk/how-children-learn/info_61.html) so that it can be done online and will then develop a specialist unit looking at autism, so that parents can really understand their children and feel confident in finding the best approaches.

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    1. That is a really interesting site. I enjoy learning about different learning styles, and figuring out how to best apply what I learn to teaching my children.

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  12. A wonderful post; am passing it on to the Autism Society here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

    I didn't tend to "misbehave" at school, at least not in terms of my immediate responses - but I had constant psychosomatic headaches and illness in efforts to avoid going to school. Unfortunately, I was usually better by the afternoon, since by then I couldn't go for the day - and then sick again in the morning. Because Asperger's as a dx didn't exist then (not until the year I graduated high school), my parents ended up thinking that I was a hypochondriac. (I talked at a regular time, and had an advanced vocab for my age, so of course I *couldn't* be autistic. *sighs*)

    It's posts like this one that inspired me to start my own blog; the sharing of experiences helping others who have similar issues. While I will never have a child myself (oh, gods, the shrill noise - I simply *cannot* tolerate it for even a few minutes, I'd never last 5+ years!), I know from my own experiences, both in the past and the present, how important it can be to have and share knowledge. So thank you.

    ;) tagAught

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    1. Gah. On reading that, I realized that it may have given the opinion that it was my parents who couldn't believe that I might be autistic - which isn't true. They never even had the information to consider the possibility when I was a child. Another good thing about the openness that comes with the internet and these blogs - it makes sure there's information out there for those with the patience to wade through the muck.

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    2. I hope that you do start a blog to speak about your experiences.

      I also had issues with feeling sick and other psychosomatic illnesses due to anxiety being held in all the time.

      Thank you for sharing my blog! I appreciate it!

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  13. This is a really good post and i completely agree

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