The behavior of Autistic children can be a very challenging thing to handle. From temper tantrums, to self-injury, to repetitive, destructive behavior, parents often don’t know where to turn to for behavior modification techniques. When “No!” doesn’t work, and time outs are ineffective, it almost seems as though it’s a lost cause. Behavior Modification Therapy focuses on these outbursts and trains the Autistic mind to relate good behavior with good feelings.
In the shoes of an Autistic Child…
If every day you went to work, did your 8 hours, and didn’t get paid, would you continue to do go to work? If you started a new diet, and it claimed that maybe someday you would be healthy, would you continue to do it? Life is all about the reward system: if you do something correctly, then you receive a reward. What the reward might be is relative to the situation, but if you seek value in that reward, you’re sure to do what is required in order to get it.
If you went to work late everyday, sat around and did nothing and still collected a paycheck, would you continue to go to work? If you were on a diet that allowed you to eat as much candy as you wanted, but promised that you’d lose weight rapidly, would you remain on the diet? Probably. Life is also about consequences. If your reward isn’t taken away when you do something against policy, then you never learn right from wrong. How are you to know that going to work late is wrong, or that eating candy is bad, if you’re not given a consequence to your action?
You Need To Say Exactly What You Want To Get Exactly What You Want
For this to be a structured approach, it’s important that you identify three main ideas to the new method:
1) What exact behavior are you looking for from the child.
2) How long do you wish for the child to apply this behavior?
3) Under what circumstances should the behavior be preformed.
For example, if you are having an issue with your child throwing a temper tantrum every time you try to put their shoes on, this can surely become a great hassle. In this situation, the behavior you’re looking for might be to calmly sit on the sofa, and allow his/her shoes to be put on. The duration of the action may be for 2 minutes or until the shoes are on and tied. The circumstances would be when it’s time to go outside and you have to wear shoes. The goal here would be for the child to learn the idea that “When it’s time to go outside and put on shoes, I have to sit on the sofa for 2 minutes until my shoes are tied”.
Creating a reward system and sticking to it
Why should your child put their shoes on? Of course it prevents mommy and daddy from going nuts from all of the screaming, but what does the child get out of the deal? If there’s no reason or reward for them to do it, then why in the world should they?
It is our own natural defense mechanism to avoid pain and gravitate to good. If you don’t know the difference, then how do you know which direction to go? Behavioral Modification creates a reward system for desired behavior, and enables the child to create healthy behavioral patterns. If they do the right thing, they receive a reward. Whether it be a hug, a high five, 5 minutes to play a video game, the key is to make the reward be something that the child wants. If you try giving a child who doesn’t like ice cream and ice cream cone, that’s not considered a reward.
In our shoe example, let’s assume that the child loves hugs and sandboxes.In this case, we may want the child to think “When it’s time to go outside and put on shoes, I have to sit on the sofa for 2 minutes until my shoes are tied, and then I get to go outside and play in the sandbox and get a big hug from Mommy”.
You Might Need a Little Help…
Unless you have your PhD in Behavioral Health hanging in your office, you probably aren’t completely sure on where to begin. There are plenty of specialists available who can help get you and your family on the right track to behavioral modification. True to form, you as the parent should keep your eye on the reward:
A happier, healthier child. This is probably above all, the best reward we could offer.