I work with six year old identical twins both on the autism spectrum along side an ABA team for which we provide Center based early intervention therapy services several days per week.
One of the programs I’ve been writing and introducing with them currently has been focused on tolerating instruction that is aversive to them and/or accepting stimuli that blocks access to otherwise preferred items or activities.
If that isn’t a mouthful right?!!
Anyone who spends any amount of time with children on the autism spectrum may immediately understand the amount of chaos one can unleash with the kind of goals associated with the word no…not right now… wait… first we have to do this…or it’s time to do this activity you don’t want to do.
In our kiddos case it means sitting and participating in group instruction. An activity that can trigger all sorts of emotions and you might think their heads could explode. But seriously, if left to their own desires these two would be front and center in the middle of Bourbon street collecting as many shiny beads their little hearts could acquire. Our twinsies, they may very well be the future generation of bead manufacturing entrepreneurs in the heart of New Orleans. Love them. ❤️
But before we can get them to that dynamic duo multi millionaire bead making powerhouse we need to shape a tolerance to group instruction. Why you ask? Not because they need to sit still and be quiet for my sake or for ultimate survival in life but because they need to be able to attend to group activity. Doing so allows us to learn in a group setting and in order to learn we have to be able to tolerate activity that allows us to get an education.
This past week was none other than chaotic in the pursuit of twin sittings. Ha ha, get it? Twin cities, twin sittings. Okay maybe I just humor myself.
Day one of the week begins with running away from the teaching space delaying the activity. This was accomplished by continually taking off our shoes. All sorts of chaos with us messengers trying to put the shoes back on in order to get back to the seat. All behaviors that have most likely been reinforced in the past since it has essentially delayed the task of sitting in group instruction and successfully allowed us to escape the situation. More over the people around us keep putting the items back on our feet which provides all sorts of attention AND escape from learning. Bonus!
What do you think these littles are likely to do? Keep taking their socks and shoes of course! Until we stop reinforcing it.
Sure enough without attention for a period of time the lack of socks and shoes on the feet becomes uncomfortable. We now have their own motivation for help putting them back on. The messenger (that’s me) is still the bad lady at this point but will help with the shoes back on after sitting first.. We sit for a minute, help put shoes back on and we ask the messenger (that’s me) for a hug. I’m the all good lady now, Until we get back up from our seat and bite the messenger in the arm. I’m the all bad lady again and yes, being bit in the crack of the arm pit hurts like a mother!
This was all to successfully help the child sit through one education task lapsing approximately five minutes in time and then have the choice to leave the class. We finally sat through one task and could leave the class.
Follow through is the critical element here along with extinction of attention for problem behavior, extinction of problem behavior for escape followed by reinforcement for completing the task. Reinforcement immediately after the tolerated response. Snacks, beads, hugs, praise and encouragement. And we could be done with the task.
Day two of this week begins with a reminder we would be heading to group instruction along with a preference check of their preferred item. Which simply means using what is motivating or reinforcing for them at that moment for the desired response. For my super sassy kiddo this is probably a Little Debbie honey bun. A favorite most days.
Will work for honey bun. Will work even more for beads. Lord help us if they ever actually discover Bourbon Street. But seriously. Lol.
We are now heading to the class area without taking our shoes and socks off. Until we get to the hallway and throw ourself down to the floor. Crying and attempting to kick the messengers face (that’s me again). I’m the all bad lady again and my face is the target. I’d like to keep my face but there are definite moments we are close to losing it.
We see honey bun in sight. We stand up again and begin walking to our seat. We are asking for a hug clinging to my arm as we walk together to the seat. I’m all good lady again. We make it to the seat but throw ourself down to the floor again. This time pulling the messengers hair and hitting my face. Well crap, I’m the all bad lady again. We stop pulling hair and ask for another hug. We sit down in the seat and ask again for a hug.
Sitting down in the seat immediately gets the hug. We sit for the teachers instruction and get hugs AND the honey bun. Hugging tight to the good lady again.
You know what happened that day? She could choose to leave the class instruction after one task but she chose to stay for more and by doing so she got to pick the next song. It was Pete The Cat, one of her favorites of course.
We chose to leave group instruction after Pete The Cat but I could not feel more proud of this super amazing kiddo.
Eventually we will get to sitting through the full class but will do so in the right amount of time and on a schedule best for us. Small steps lead to big outcomes.
Parents or people who love them through the all good and all bad…Know that we see you. 💙
It is incredibly hard to bounce back and forth from good to bad and back again. It means we walk into the ever changing fire with them potentially getting hurt or watching them hurt themselves. And being okay with it.
But do not ever believe for a single second any child is not capable of achieving great things.
We are their calm in the chaos and it’s all good.
And please remember, unlovable human moments does not equal an unlovable person. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Loved By Grace,