What can we do if our friend with autism just plops down in the middle of a parking lot and refuses to get up? We can certainly try to determine the cause of the behavior and take some proactive steps to prevent the frustrating and potentially dangerous behavior. But sometimes our best intentions and strategies fail. What are some alternatives when we find ourselves in the middle of a busy parking lot standing beside a person with autism who has just plopped on the ground?
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. We can, of course, just take the hand of some youngsters and pull them to their feet. But the situation is not so easily resolved for teens and adults with autism or with individuals who respond violently to physical prompts
1. Some individuals will respond to our extended hand and a specific firm but pleasant command to “stand and walk.” Some folks may need a visual cue – sign language or picture card – paired with the verbal direction and extended hand. Then we need to wait with an expectant look on our face.
2. For some individuals, the best strategy is to ignore the plop and keep walking toward the car. Of course, this only works if we are absolutely certain none of the other cars in the parking lot will move while we wait for our friend to stand up.
3. Other individuals respond to a bribe such as a snack or favorite magazine. Of course, 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 him out. Until he learns to walk without plopping, it might be best to avoid parking lots or public places where his plopping can be dangerous.
Of course, we want to see if we can determine the catalyst for the plopping behavior. If, for example, our friend is demonstrating his frustration or anger about leaving the store or another issue, we can give him a safer and more appropriate way to communicate rather than just plopping on the floor.
We also need to systematically teach our friends how to walk beside us without plopping and to give them opportunities to practice appropriate behavior. Take a look at the discussion called “Walk With Me” for some ideas.
But, meanwhile, you can try some of the ideas above if the occasion arises unexpectedly. It is always good to have “Plan B” in our pocket. We welcome your input – experiences with plopping behavior or ideas for dealing with it. Please feel free to click on the comment button or send us an e-mail: talk@FAQautism.com
NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: 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. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. Send email to talk@FAQautism.com And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. http://FAQautism.com