I opened yesterday’s post with a series of oft-asked questions of parents of kiddos on the spectrum, the biggest of which I suspect is “Why in the hell is he doing that?”
There’s a lot of guilt one feels as a parent to a kiddo on the spectrum. After the meltdown, or public incident, or whatever the negative behavior that just occurred was, we often think, “Was that my fault? Did I do something wrong that caused that?” While feelings of guilt are rarely productive (although feelings are feelings and we can’t control them, really), this questions is a good starting point for a little behavior analysis.
You see, most autism parents already do this naturally, but may not know it had a name.
When your kiddo starts to have a problem at school, the IEP team may suggest a functional behavior assessment. This is where someone (probably with a lot of credentials) will come in to observe your child over several days, and collect data about his/her schedule and routines, and more specifically, exactly what happens before the negative behavior occurs. The reason they do this is to figure out the “trigger” for the negative behavior, so that we can better understand what the child is attempting to communicate through the negative behavior, and then plan strategies to avoid or minimize the trigger so that the negative behavior decreases, or plan strategies for how the kiddo can cope with a trigger that cannot be reduced or avoided.
Let’s say I get a phone call that The Boy is repeatedly attempting to escape from science class (yep, this happened in real life). A functional behavior assessment would serve to identify if this is occurring at a consistent time, and what the cause might be – is it another child with lots of body spray sitting next to him? Is it the brightness or noise of the projector that is turned on next to his seat at the beginning of class each day? Does he have to pee? Does he have anxiety about being late to his next class? Does he feel like he is missing something important elsewhere in the building? Is he frustrated because he doesn’t understand the material? Is there too much handwriting so he is falling behind? Through observation, they can determine what the constant variable is whenever he escapes, and then come up with a plan (move the projector, move his seat, allow him to use a study buddy or word processor to take notes, have a talk with the teacher of his next class about being welcoming and not marking him late, or allow him to use the restroom when he needs to, rather than at passing time). Strategies often include the use of motivators and rewards, as well, to give your kiddo positive reinforcement to keep up the good work. For instance, if The Boy uses the strategy put in place, and stopped escaping from science, he could earn some extra iPad time in social skills class.
You see, we autism parents often do the same thing at home. It’s how I know to expect some hyperactivity after we have Goldfish, especially the multicolored kind – I discovered that through careful observation of my own. The triggers for negative behavior I mentioned yesterday came from careful observation of my own, as well.
So if you are ever ready to throw your hands up and scream “WHY??”, take a deep breath, grab a notebook, and start observing. You already do this fancy thing called Behavior Analysis, and no one knows your kid better than you. You are no “dummy”. It may take days, weeks, or months, but you’ll get to the bottom of it. You got this. 😉