“Trust is built with consistency” Lincoln Chafee once said. As parents, caregivers, and educators we know that the key to making sure any skill is mastered is consistency. And teaching our friends with Autism new skills is no different than teaching their neuro-typical counterparts. It’s all in consistency. If I provide consistency then my student or client will know what to expect from me, and this decreases their level of anxiety and frustration. This also, like Lincoln said, builds trust. If I want a child to trust me I have to provide structure and a routine that has clear expectations that they understand. I have to build that trust to hold value to them. Basically, I have to have a kid like me if I’m going to get them to do anything for me.
Many parents have told me how difficult it is for them to provide the consistency that is needed. This can be because their own family schedule, the time of day that is available for therapy, or for the simple fact that hearing their child protest during therapy feels like it may be counterproductive. I understand all of this and I am here to reiterate the value of CONSISTENCY. When you invite a therapist into your home (and this is not something I take lightly) there is a level of trust and respect that that relationship needs to be built on for you and your child. And when done right you will be guided on a journey of learning more about your child, yourself, understanding of a unique mind, development of new ways of interacting, and a deeper respect for people who think differently than ourselves. And therapy will push the boundaries of your comfort zone.
When I’m called to work with children it’s because there is a challenge or problem behavior. This can be a behavior that is hindering the child’s learning and development of new skills. I am called in to figure out what the child’s motivating operations are (or M.O.). This is the fuel behind the problem behavior, what is driving this particular child to exhibit this behavior and what are they getting out of it? There is reinforcement, or a pay-off, for every behavior and every behavior is a form of communication. Part of my job is to figure out what your child is trying to communicate or what the payoff is. Sometimes it is something easy, other times it can take a few weeks to uncover. I’ve heard some people say that ABA doesn’t work because after a week or two their child was either still exhibiting the behavior or the behavior had escalated and this is typical. It may seem that when your child is yelling or having a meltdown with their therapist, that the therapist is ignoring your child’s needs. This, in fact, is not the case. The therapist is ignoring the behavior, not what can look like the child’s needs. If I want a child to sit down I’m going to reinforce the good behavior, and if the child is knocking the chair over or throwing objects I’m going to ignore that behavior. What I will do is keep placing the chair right side up and will reiterate my request (sit down) quietly and calmly. If this is a particularly difficult task (e.g. if the child doesn’t yet understand what “sit down” means) then I’m going to model it for them as I verbally prompt. As soon as the child does what I’m asking, or even an approximation of the request (e.g. if the child sat down but not where I prompted them to) I will immediately reinforce the appropriate behavior. While your therapist is working on teaching new, possibly more difficult, skills you will see your child go through meltdowns. As a parent,real world I know how this can stab at your heart, but let’s look at the bigger picture here. Would you rather have a few sessions of your child having meltdowns because your therapist is trying to teach them a skill that they wireal-worldsituations or would you rather have your child struggle? Trust me, the meltdowns will subside and it’s what we call an “extinction burst”. You may have read another one of my blogs where I described this. This happens when we are trying to teach a child a replacement behavior that is more appropriate than the challenging behavior they are exhibiting. This behavior is serving a purpose for the child, albeit a negative purpose, and it’s our job to help them discover a more appropriate and functional behavior. Developing new behaviors is not something that can be taught in a few sessions. Just like learning your math facts took time, concentration, and perseverance (and certainly didn’t happen overnight!) so does learning new skills for children with Autism. What your therapist should provide is an outlet to exhibit those behaviors and gently teach more appropriate ones while fostering the relationship between themselves and your child.
I hope this blog has provided some insight into how having a consistent schedule with your ABA can open new doors for you and your child. As long as the flow of communication is always open and positive you most certainly will see your child succeed! Have a wonderful Monday!