Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Balancing Discipline and Building Character

It is important to use discipline effectively and to help your child build character.  What kind of adult is your child going to be?  Do you envision your child being a violent criminal or a productive member of society?  While it is not your job to dictate their future, it IS your job to help shape it by teaching right from wrong and building a positive character.

You have far more power than you think.  To a young child a parent is like a God- they may just not feel as if you are serious or will not follow through with consequences.  Many parents that I volunteer with state that their child has no respect for them and simply will not listen to them.   My son behaved like that for a while as well and I felt powerless to help him.  I can't give you a "magic technique that works every time"- it really all depends upon you and your child- what works for one family might not work for another.  That said, in this type of situation there are basic principles that you may need reminding of.

Balance punishment and rewards-  the rewards should outweigh punishment.  What do I mean by "punishment"?  Really just consistent use of consequences...

For example:  Yesterday I asked my son to clean his room.  He came down stairs and asked me to check his work because he wanted to go play baseball.  I went and his room was technically clean- his closet however was where he had hidden the mess- as if with a bulldozer.

I told him this was unacceptable- he had not cleaned, merely moved the mess from one area to another (we have had this talk before, it was nothing new to him).  For trying to take shortcuts and "cheat", he did not get to go outside to play baseball.

When he had corrected the situation, I still did not let him go out to play baseball as that would have sent the message that my consequences are alterable.  I did however go through his room, bit by bit and praised him for what he had done correctly "good job putting all of the books together!  "I love how you used these Star Wars characters to decorate your shelf!" "THIS is prefect!  THIS is how I want you to remember to do it next time! You did an awesome job!

It seems simple enough and it is common sense.  The challenge herein is fairness and the parents' will-power not to give into those tears.  This decision was particularly challenging for me as my son has autism and experiences frequent social isolation and yesterday his friend was outside hoping to play- I want him to experience all of the joy of being a child- but that does give an excuse to allow for bad behaviors.

Now, I did not want to continue to punish him all night since he DID correct the situation so instead of going outside to play baseball, he and I did a science experiment in the kitchen and then we watched jeopardy together (he got a few of the answers!).

He will attempt to shove everything in the closet again someday and again I will stand firm.  I doubt it will be anytime soon as missing the fun outside was devastating to him.

The closet story is cute, but it does not address serious behavioral problems.... if you think about it though, it does.  My son used to have serious behavioral issues.   He actually broke my nose at one point.  We used rewards and consequences combined and we used behavior charts as well.

The teachers just kept saying "be more consistent"  ok, that is great, it is true and very important but what we were missing back then was "consistent with what?"  Nothing seemed to work, he did not appear to care in the slightest.  We could tell him the consequences until we were blue in the face and it made no difference.

Don't try to be scary and yell- I found that my son seems far more concerned that "mom means business" when I speak very softly.  It gets his attention quite well although sometimes I do need to yell his name (if there are other noises- not yelling AT him, initially gaining his attention) and occasionally I will either clap or flick the lights (like they do at school) but he always listens to me now!

When you are consistent and encouraging good behaviors, your child will build character.  When you start to notice a change in their behavior, really show them how proud you are!

If you are having serious problems managing your child's behavior, the best advice I can give you is DON"T give up, know that you are certainly not alone, speak to your child's doctors and ask for referrals if necessary, talk to your child's school counselor, learn everything you can about what might be causing your child's bad behavior and be honest with yourself.  Keep trying rewards, incentives and use behavior charts consistently, do not be cruel to your child, but if you say "no new toys, no going outside or any other consequence like that, stick to it!  Here are a few books that you might find helpful in modifying your child's behavior!  These are some of the most popular behavior books.

Monday, October 3, 2011

When is ABA appropriate?

One of the first therapies recommended to parents when their child is diagnosed with autism is ABA therapy (Applied Behavioral Analysis).  While I have nothing against ABA in and of itself, I am frustrated with the manner in which professionals tout it as if it were 100% effective for every child on the spectrum.

There are cases in which it is clearly the best resource, but there are also cases in which it is possible that it will not only be ineffective, but potentially add to the child's isolation.

When my son was really young, and violent and non verbal, it was a lifesaver- we did it full time for nearly a year and tapered off (still using it daily) for a few more months until the total time was about 18 months.  We had a few very bad experiences with it during that time, but it was not the therapy itself that was the problem- ethics were not adhered to.

I know many children for whom ABA therapy is the single best therapy. I also know a few who are not good candidates.  My son (I use him as an example as I don't like to use other people's kids without permission) is now 7 years old.  He is verbal- extremely verbal- he still has some speech problems but he tries very hard!  He has extreme sensory issues which we do sensory integration therapy for and he is happily engaged in all of those activities.  He does not argue or refuse to do things very often (occasionally there will be an icky piece of food that he says no to)  and he actively seeks out advice in confusing social situations.

He already has very robotic movements and speech- he appears to be "programmed" at times and he is actively trying to correct that.

Why do I bring this up?  I have been asked "Why do you not have him in full time ABA? It is the only therapy which can be effective for him- don't you think that is irresponsible?"  I was asked this by a peds nurse.  My son has a team of many many professionals- including annual evaluations from.... an ABA therapist!  The therapist feels that if he were to start full time ABA again then he would simply become more "robotic".  The therapist has not really found anything as far as issues that the therapy would be beneficial for- he works hard in regular speech and OT and SIT, he is "compliant" so it seems that at least right now ABA therapy is NOT necessary for him.

I had a run in with that nurse before, it was the same issue.  Sadly she is not the only healthcare professional that we have worked with who does not seem to understand that although it is effective, ABA is not a one size fits all "cure".

If you are being pressured into ANY therapy for your child that makes you uncomfortable or that you truly doubt is the best approach for your individual child, please... speak up, get a second opinion!  Often simply following through with the therapy evaluation will answer any questions you have as to whether it is necessary or not as the therapist can explain it far better than the doctor and nurse.  Our ABA therapist does not see a benefit in my son's case, but we would not have known if we hadn't at least done the eval.