When it comes to taming very disruptive or inappropriate behaviors, we can reach a point where it is difficult to see any progress. Sometimes family members, teachers, therapists, and others interested in the well-being of individuals with autism need to take a close look at the situation and take a different tack to prevent taking one step forward only to take two steps back.
Forward progress is often more noticeable when we define target objectives in positive terms and when we systematically teach the appropriate behavior. Increasing “good” behaviors that are incompatible with “bad” behaviors is usually more effective than trying to coerce or threaten our friends to stop disruptive actions or inappropriate habits.
1. REDEFINE THE GOALS. Restating goals in positive terms allows us to encourage appropriate behavior rather than spending so much time and energy trying to get rid of unacceptable behavior. So, for example, if a teen with autism always sweeps her snack off the table at school and at home, we can define the goal as “Keep snack on table for 15 seconds.” We can gradually increase the time until she reaches a point of being able to eat her snack without sweeping everything on the floor. Progress toward the more positive objective is easier to measure and attain.
2. TEACH DESIRED ACTIONS. In some cases, our friends with autism understand that we want them to stop a certain action, but they may or may not know what we want them to do instead. For example, when an individual with autism makes very loud sounds in group settings, we can teach him to “whisper” or to “make sounds like a little mouse.” At the same time, we can teach people around him to avoid looking at him every time he makes a loud sound.
If a youngster with autism typically scratches or hits people nearby, we can teach him to keep his hands in his lap, and we can give him a wiffle ball or other soft object to occupy his hands. We can also position his chair so he cannot reach to hit or scratch others. But we want to encourage interaction, so we can teach his family and friends to stand or sit slightly out of reach when interacting with him.
TIP FOR THE DAY. Two proven strategies for preventing frustration for caregivers and for individuals with autism are: (1) define objectives in positive terms, and (2) systematically teach “good” behaviors that are incompatible with disruptive, hurtful, and irritating behaviors.
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 a confidential email at talk@FAQautism.com with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. 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