Ever feel like you are going in circles? Sometimes we have just beginning to iron out one behavior issue when another one comes barreling around the corner. How can we avoid the frustrating feeling of being caught in a hopeless spiral?
For many years, I viewed behavior management as a linear process, in that we respond to a behavior in one of four ways. (1) We ENCOURAGE positive behaviors. (2) We learn to TOLERATE or ignore behaviors that are inherent in autism and not too disruptive. (3) Some behaviors need to change, so we develop a plan to SHAPE or improve a behavior. (4) Some behaviors are hurtful or inappropriate, so we take immediate steps to STOP it.
But, interestingly, the most effective way to STOP a behavior is to ENCOURAGE a different, incompatible behavior. For example, if a pre-schooler with autism is hitting a fellow student during circle time, we realize that telling him firmly to “stop hitting” doesn’t stop the behavior. It usually works better if we are more specific, telling him what we want him TO do rather than telling him what we do NOT want him to do. One strategy that is very effective in this situation is to tell the child to put his hands on his knees. We STOP the hitting by ENCOURAGING an incompatible behavior, i.e. putting hands on knees.
Here are a few more examples of ENCOURAGING a positive behavior in order to STOP the spiral of inappropriate behavior.
GOOD SITTER: Encouraging a youngster to keep his bottom in his chair stops his constant jumping up or running away from the group activity or meal.
GOOD LISTENER: Rather than constantly saying, “Be quiet,” touch your finger to your lips and whisper “Good listener.”
HANDSHAKE: Teach a young adult who intimidates people with bone-crunching hugs to stand back and give people a handshake.
TIP FOR THE DAY: You get the idea. In order to stop the spiral of difficult and challenging behaviors, encourage incompatible behaviors. It can take time and patience to teach the positive behaviors, but it works much better than nagging, and the effort pays big dividends in the long run.
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