Some individuals with autism express their frustration or anger or agitation by simply plopping down in the middle of a parking lot or a store. The podcast entitled “Plopping Down” addressed this challenging issue from two angles: (1) developing an effective plan for encouraging the person to stand and walk, and (2) discovering the catalyst for the plopping behavior and helping the person communicate their frustration in a safer and more appropriate manner. Today’s podcast proposes a strategy designed to teach the individual to keep moving and to walk rather than plopping down on the floor or parking lot.
The “Walk With Me” strategy approaches the challenge of plopping behavior with systematic, pro-active teaching so we aren’t compelled to always function in a reactive mode. This is an intense, structured strategy designed for a non-verbal young adult who frequently displays dangerous behaviors including sitting down in the middle of parking lots and streets. Other individuals will respond to a different approach, but this gives caregivers a frame of reference for developing an effective strategy.
1. Use a photo schedule or other method to show your friend where you are going and the approximate timeline you will follow. In the beginning, give him a chance to learn this new strategy by planning short trips to places where he does not typically plop.
2. State and demonstrate the behavior you expect during excursions. Use positive terms such as “Walk with me” and “Talk when mad.” Pair photos or visual symbols with your verbal discussion.
3. Introduce a small travel folder called “Walk with Me” or other appropriate title. Let your friend select a reward that he will receive when he returns home. Put a picture or symbol of that reward on the top of the travel folder using a Velcro tab or tape. Draw five (or so) boxes for stars or checks or smiling faces beneath the reward picture.
4. At regular intervals, when you are walking in the store or restaurant or other destination, say “You are walking with me. Good job. Let’s put a star in your travel folder.”
5. Time the final star for walking into the house from the car at the end of the excursion. Say, “Good job. You walked with me,” then give him his reward without delay.
6. If – or when – plopping occurs, then stand beside him without reaction. Do not look at him and do not worry how outside observers react. Say firmly, “Stand now, and walk with me.” If he does not comply after one minute (or so), say, “You do not want to walk with me right now, but, of course, you remember that one of our rules is to Walk With Me. So, stand, now, please, and walk with me.” Speak in a calm, quiet, and firm voice, then look at him with an expectant, firm look, not saying a word. If he does not stand after a minute or so, show him his travel folder. Say calmly, quietly, and firmly, “You need to stand now, please, or I will take away a star.” Then wait one minute. If he does not stand, take a star off his travel folder. Then start the whole process over again, repeating until he finally gives in.
7. As his plopping behavior decreases, teach the skills in more challenging excursions. Gradually fade out the travel folder. The keys to this strategy are (1) to help him learn that you really mean what you say, and that (2) to help him learn that if he walks with you without plopping down, good things happen. In the long run, your patient teaching will pay off when his plopping behaviors disappear.
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