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