get the right response (Autism)

get the right response
People with Autism are intelligent, but sometimes as a parent of an Autistic child it can be difficult to see at times.

When we ask our children to do something and they don’t respond, it’s not a lack of intelligence, but the Autistic child’s brain taking time to process everything. Temple Grandin has said…

The Autistic brain doesn’t process verbal and visual cues at the same time.

When Jeremiah was younger, I talked to him in full sentences, I wanted to treat him just as we had our daughter and she was able to understand complete sentences. At some point, I realized he wasn’t processing what I was saying, so I shortened those longer phrases, if I wanted him to do something, I said, “Get off the table.”

Use short sentences ending in the action you want to take place.

Despite the change, I was still having trouble getting him to do what I asked. When Jeremiah was three-years-old, we had a Developmental Specialist and Speech Pathologist coming to the house to work with Jeremiah. They said many times kids (not specific to Autism necessarily) only hear the last one or two words you say, so they suggested saying, “Get down,” instead of , “Get off the [insert whatever your child constantly climbs on],” or “hands off,” when they’re, let’s say, hitting the t.v. instead of, “Stop hitting the t.v.”

keep it simpleWhen you say, “Stop hitting the t.v.,” your child may only be processing the last word, “Blah, blah, blah, t.v.” Whereas, with saying, “hands off,” they can begin to learn what you want them to do.

These short sentences don’t need to be used in all your communication with your child, only when you need them to do something specific. When they’ve done what you’re asking for a while, you can start using longer sentences and see how it works. Once in a while your child may ignore you, have difficulty processing, or not be focused, so you can occasionally go back to those one to two-word sentences.

Wait for your child to process what you said

When you ask your child to do something, wait for your child to process your words. Give them time to filter what you said. We don’t see, hear, or experience the world the way they do, and they have multiple sensory stimuli coming at them that a neurotypical person doesn’t notice. You can SLOWLY count to five or ten after you’ve given a direction and maybe that’s what they needed, more time to process what you said.

The Autism Site has a great article and video about how people with Autism process the auditory and visual at different times, thus creating confusion.

Move YOUR body

It’s also important to move YOUR body when you ask your child to do something. When your child is hitting something or someone, touching an item they’re not supposed to, climbing on a piece of furniture you don’t want them on, it doesn’t suffice to call across the room, “Get down!” or “Hands off!” you will need to move. If you don’t, your child won’t take you seriously.

I’m not saying you need to be overbearing and mean. Simply tell your child what you want him to do, in an authoritative, but kind voice as you move toward him. If you don’t move and you repeat your request over and over,

your child will sense you’re not serious and will continue the behavior.

Use hand-over-hand to teach your child

With kids who have Autism it often helps to teach them with hand-over-hand movements. This is not to be done in a controlling manner, or to keep their hands “quiet” when they are stimming or clapping. I feel it’s imperative we listen to Autistic adults, and many have been harmed by hand-over-hand teaching. Here’s an example from Julia at juststimming.com. Jess who writes Diary of a Mom also wrote about “quiet hands” here.

If your child doesn’t understand, or has difficulty following directions such as, “hands off,” when you’re asking her to stop touching the t.v., you can gently put your hands over hers, move them off the t.v. while giving the direction. Or, if your child is being rough with an animal, you can put your hands over theirs and pet the animal gently with their hands, while saying, “Be gentle,” or “Soft.” Be sure to use the same word each time.

Some of you may be saying, “But that’s not teaching my child manners.” You can use full sentences, pleases, and thank-yous in all other areas when speaking to your child, but when you want to teach your child basic instructions, it’s okay to skip the manners in those situations.

Be consistent

Parents of Autistic kids know how important consistency and routine are for their children, if not, you now know. 🙂 In teaching your child what’s expected, consistency is EXTREMELY important. I can’t emphasize this enough. If you let up and don’t make your child do the things you’ve deemed important (making sure to take Autism and sensory needs into consideration), your child will revert back to what makes them feel more comfortable; walking around the house with food, jumping on furniture, hitting things.

I’m aware of the need for consistency in our home because when we go without it, Jeremiah reverts to old behaviors. Whenever Jeremiah is sick, he takes steps backwards, and this is to be expected. Whenever I’m sick and unable to keep up, he reverts to old behaviors. It makes sense, but reitterates the need for consistency. We get tired, family members get sick, we go on vacation, routines change, and old behaviors emerge, but trying to stay consistent will help get your child back to what they can do.

Praise specifically and genuinely

Praise your child specifically and genuinely when they do what they’re supposed to. Praise them when they do what you’ve asked, such as, “Thank you for being nice.” Even in those moments when your child is simply doing something you haven’t asked them to, like sitting down at the table for a meal, or jumping on the trampoline instead of wandering through the yard. (Wandering isn’t a problem, Autistic people experience a far different world then neurotypical people, they hear, see, and feel what we don’t, so in wandering they may be meeting several needs. but you want your child to expand their play, interactions, and experiences, thus praise when they do so.)

There can be so much correction and direction given to children with Autism, we need to make sure they know when they’re doing a good job.

I can’t speak for every Autism parent, but I know I’m often tired. It takes love, work, work, and more work to help our kids and we can fall into patterns of not noticing when our children are behaving because those are the times when we let up. I know I tend to notice more when my child is creating chaos. We may be exhausted from life and constantly directing that we forget to tell our child, “Thank you for staying down,” or “That was great listening.” I know I have to remind myself continually to not get absorbed in what Jeremiah is doing wrong, but in focusing on what he’s doing right. In the post More Perspectives on Applied Behavior Analysis you can watch the video which speaks perfectly to this exact scenario.

Jess of Diary of a Mom says, “…Always presume competence and to understand that our children, whether we believe that they are or not, are taking it all in, remembering it, storing it, processing it in their own time.”

You can print this list and place it on the fridge to help you remember the key points in this post:
tips to getting the right response

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I’ve written about getting the right response in relation to adopted and foster children in Keep It Simple: Simple Language = Understanding

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more perspectives on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) – Autism

moreperspectivesonABA In my post My Thoughts on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), I said I would share more opinions on ABA from professionals, a very successful mother of an Autistic boy, and adults on the spectrum. So here’s the follow-up post I promised, albeit late because of a sickness that I can’t seem to overcome. In that post I shared that I had a gut feeling about ABA. I didn’t want my son in thirty to forty hours of therapy per week. I was very uncomfortable with someone forcing him to do therapies where I knew he would be pushed to his extremes and would cry and scream for hours. (You can also refer to the post Does Your Child Like Their Therapist, it was written for the parents of an adopted or foster child, but there are many key elements an Autism parent can take away.) I wasn’t okay with therapists who wouldn’t allow me to sit in on their sessions with my son either. Nor was I okay with my son sitting across the table from a therapist, repeating the same tasks hundreds of times . Mainly because he wouldn’t be able to maintain that type of intense focus.

I knew in my heart what I felt,

but there was always this external pressure because it seemed that all other Autism parents loved ABA. But, information began pouring in that pointed to the contrary. There were others who held the same opinions my husband and I did (yes, thankfully he felt the same way). Maybe traditional ABA wasn’t the best way. First came our in-home Developmental Specialist, Lia*, who’s been working with our son, Jeremiah, for two-and-a-half years. Lia’s not fond of ABA in the traditional sense, but will modify it drastically to fit the child, situation, and family. (You can read about one of the solutions she created for us in the first link in this post.) She was the first one who made me feel like we were going in the right direction. By the way, the specific conversation of ABA didn’t come up until about six months ago. I had formed my own ideas long before her and I discussed it. Second came Michael Emmons*, who we are so fortunate to have been put in contact with. He is a Professor of Special Education at a University, has over thirty years of experience in special education, and specializes in inclusive education, positive behavioral support, language, literacy, and communication. Emmons has observed Jeremiah on a few occasions, and we recently had the opportunity to sit down with him and chat.

One of my questions for Emmons was, “What do you think of ABA therapy?”

From the moment he began speaking, I knew we were riding the same wave. Know the feeling? Emmons said he’s seen children harmed by ABA. I knew my son had lost skills because of ABA, but children had been harmed? I sat in awe, listening to Emmons and his knowledge on the subject. Then he expounded. He once went into a situation where a girl on the spectrum had put three therapists in the hospital. Emmons was brought in and he stopped the ABA, he had her learning through her environment. Within a couple weeks, she was smiling, happy, and talking. Sadly, after Emmons left, the therapists went back to doing ABA with this young girl. After talking with Emmons, my spirit was buoyed. I was so grateful to know my opinions on ABA were validated, none the less by a professional who’d been engrained with ABA in school. focusonthepositivethingsyourchilddoes Then I came across an interview Steve Paikin from The Agenda did with Kristine Barnett. Kristine’s son, Jacob, has Autism. He’s fifteen-years-old, in college, and poised to become a future Nobel Prize winner for his work in Theoretical Physics (I wasn’t even sure I knew how to spell the word “theoretical,” let alone study it!). But that’s not the most important point of Jacob and Kristine’s story. When Jacob was two, Kristine was told he would probably never speak due to his severe Autism. Jacob was going through the traditional therapies for Autism, and Kristine noticed how all the neurotypical kids she worked with were having fun, but Jacob wasn’t.

She says, “It seems like all we were doing was focusing on what Jacob couldn’t do.”

When Jacob turned three, his teacher/therapist told Kristine to give up any hope of him ever communicating. At that point, Kristine decided to disregard traditional therapies and focus on what Jacob could do. Here is her interview with Steve Paikin on The Agenda: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gxan95vKOrE Kristine has also written The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing, Genius, and Autism. Before I continue, I would love for you to read No You Don’t by Sparrow Rose Jones. It’s about how making a child comply (the goal of many ABA therapies) can create major problems, especially when that child is nonverbal. Remember that I didn’t search for any of these opinions on ABA, they all fell in my lap. If we want to look to prove just about anything, all we have to do is look hard enough, search long enough. In the midst of those three confirmations came statements from adults on the spectrum about ABA. One man had the opinion that ABA is why so many people with Autism develop Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. So, in the planning of this post I asked, “What are your thoughts on ABA?” in a social media group consisting of adults on the spectrum, professionals, and parents of people on the spectrum. The responses blew my mind. I came to the deep realization that us parents of kids on the spectrum really need to listen to those who’ve gone before our children (and I don’t just mean Temple Grandin). I’m only listing a small handful of the great insight that was shared by those who want to bring awareness and acceptance about Autism to the world.

ABA is like anything else…how it is executed goes a long way in whether it is successful.” – Rick Spencer

“I wish ABAs got more training in sensory issues.” – A. Creigh Farinas

ABA is nothing more than child abuse. If these same techniques were used against a normal child, all HELL would be raised.” (Referring to ABA in it’s true, pure form.) – Jeff Sexton (Autistic)

“As a teacher, I have been horrified by things that were done to children in my classrooms in the name of ABA. It came across as incredibly disrespectful of the human being in question.” – Joanie Calem

“I think the fact that the ABA community and the autistic adult community don’t tend to talk to each other is a HUGE part of the problem.” – A. Creigh Farinas

“The ideals taught are to teach a child to communicate the NORMAL way, to express themselves the NORMAL way, to function the NORMAL way…Typical children conform…ASD children adapt.” – Nancy Getty (Autistic)

“There is also a high price that autistic children can pay when ABA is practiced in such a way that compliance itself is a goal – abuse, physical/sexual/emotional.” – Patricia Gabe (She’s the one who referred to the post above by Sparrow Jones.)

“Applying therapies and asking someone to conform to a standard in a one size fits all attitude can strip a person of their natural strengths.” – Nancy Getty

Sparrow Rose Jones, and Autistic adult says about ABA, “What looks like progress is happening at the expense of the child’s sense of self, comfort, feelings of safety, ability to love who they are, stress levels, and more. The outward appearance is of improvement, but with classic ABA therapy, that outward improvement is married to a dramatic increase in internal anxiety and suffering.”

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Emma’s Hope Book adds a great perspective on ABA therapy as well. Another post that is worth considering: Would You Accept This Behavior Toward a Non-Autistic Child? *Names have been changed to protect privacy. *My opinions above refer to “traditional” ABA therapy. I believe ABA can be drastically modified to help individuals on the spectrum. You can view my links to read more about those conclusions.


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