“Sometimes my son just decides he doesn’t want to go any further, and plops down – in the middle of the store, the middle of church, or the middle of the parking lot,” said one parent of a young adult diagnosed with autism. “Sometimes his plopping is his way of communicating that he doesn’t want to leave yet, but sometimes it is very difficult to figure out the trigger. He is a big youngster who is physically strong and strong-willed, so I can’t just lift and move him. I am searching for some ideas.”
Several of my friends with autism display similar “plopping” behavior, so I understand your frustration. Basically, we will explore challenge from three different angles. First, for his safety and for our sanity, we need to have a fool-proof plan for encouraging him to quickly stand up and move once he has plopped down. Secondly, we want to see if we can determine the catalyst for the behavior so we can give him a safer and more appropriate way to communicate rather than just plopping on the floor. Finally, we need to systematically teach him how to walk beside us without plopping and to give him opportunities to practice appropriate behavior. Today’s podcast will cover the first two areas of concern. Tune in tomorrow for the discussion on the “Walk With Me” strategy.
Once a person has plopped down in a parking lot, we need to take swift action to get him up and out of harm’s way.
1. Some individuals will respond to our extended hand and a specific, firm command to “stand and walk.” Some folks may need a visual cue paired with the verbal direction and extended hand. But some individuals may choose to be incompliant. For others, their current state of anger or stubbornness may prevent them from paying attention to your direction.
2. For some individuals, all we have to do is to ignore the plop and keep walking to the car. Of course, this only works if we are absolutely certain none of the other cars will move while we wait for our friend to decide to stand up.
3. Other individuals respond to a bribe such as a snack or favorite magazine, but a bribe can actually increase a behavior in the long run since our friend learns that plopping results in the offer of a bribe.
4. Some folks respond to a “threat” to take away their favorite video or privilege, but others do not comprehend or respond to delayed gratification.
5. Sometimes the only alternative is to stand calmly beside our friend and wait them out. Until he learns to walk without plopping, it might be best to avoid dangerous parking lots or public places where his plopping can be dangerous. So, for example, f you have another adult with you, they can drive a car to the entrance of the store to pick you and your son up.
Take a close look at “plopping” incidents and see if you can determine the catalyst for his behavior. If so, give him some options for communicating his opinion or frustration in a more appropriate and safe manner. If you can see that his frustration is growing and a “plop” is imminent, then stop and say, “Phillip, I can see that you are frustrated. Tell me what is bothering you.” Then he can use a communication device, signs, or words to tell you why he doesn’t want to keep walking.
Tune in to our “Walk With Me” podcast for a discussion on a strategy that tackles this situation from the pro-active rather than the reactive angle.
Note to FAQautism.com listeners and readers: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At FAQautism.com we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. You can click on a button to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solutions. Check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. www.FAQautism.com