The Church of Behavioralist Techniques

Seymour and I had a meeting with Leelo's Supervisor E tonight, to discuss our family's ongoing behavioral efforts to help Leelo manage his aggression. (Supervisor E has taken over the greatly-reduced home component of Leelo's learning, whereas Supervisor M focuses on working with Leelo's curriculum and classroom work, and ensuring classroom-to-home consistency.)

I enjoy our meetings with Supervisor E. It is like going to church in that our goals, our reasons, and our knowledge about Leelo and his behavior are clarified and reinforced, and we take in more of the True Path, the one that will continue to show our son The Way.

Here is what we discussed tonight:

Overall the tone of our interactions with Leelo needs to be very clear. Positive for positive behavior, neutral/unengaged for undesired behavior. He needs to learn to get our attention by behaving well, not badly.

  • If he is behaving in desired manner, one we want to reinforce and have him repeat, we give him constant positive verbal reinforcement.
  • The moment he acts out, our tone becomes flat and business-like, with interactions kept as brief as possible.
We want to prevent episodes rather than impose discipline. Prevention is much less messy.

  • Use visual supports.
  • Activity schedules help Leelo organize and anticipate. They also facilitate more independence, as he can scan and work through much of his schedules without external input or prompting.
  • Individual icons are good for easing transitions (e.g., icons used in car: "Put on Seatbelt," etc.)
  • Lots and lots of non-contingent positive praise/reinforcement (e.g., While in car, every minute or so say something like, "Leelo, you are doing a good job keeping shoes on!")
  • Warn Leelo about what is happening next.
  • Let Leelo know when we will be turning attention away from him.
  • Evade. Step back, get out of the way.
  • Say "STOP!" (This is a specific direction that tells him what to do, as opposed to non-specific "NO!")
  • Give a single, one-step direction, e.g., "sit down."
  • We do not want Leelo to learn that attacking gives him big screeching reactions from his parents. He needs to receive NO reinforcement for such behavior.
  • Supervisor E will be back in two weeks, and in the interim will be thinking about a small reinforcement system that we can use for Mali, to get her to stop reacting so extremely when Leelo targets her. Her fear is legitimate and her shrieking understandable, but if we can get her to run away and not scream, Leelo will lose his reinforcement and she will be safer.
  • In Supervisor E's experience, punishment rarely works with kids like Leelo. They don't know why you are doing it, and it makes them feel like they are being attacked for no reason.
  • Maintain same lovely, happy, snuggly bedtime routine.
  • Once our boy is tucked in bed, nice mommy and daddy are all done and all-business mommy and daddy emerge.
  • Any getting out of bed, even for legitimate toilet needs, is met with only the bare minimum required interaction, and no eye contact.
  • Same phrase, "back in bed," is used consistently and with no affect.
Your kid doesn't have to have autism to use a lot of these techniques, by the way. Take away the icons and schedule and the aggressive attacks, and you have a plan for dealing with any kid whose brattiness has a behavioral component.

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  1. Anonymous5:32 AM

    We've used a lot of these same techniques off and on over the years, at school and at home. I always found the toughest point to get across with family members and teachers was the "no reaction" to bad behavior. It's like we're programmed to overreact, when what our kids need is, as you say, a flat, business-like response. Ten out of ten times reacting in any other way escalates the behavior you are trying to stop. (At least in our experience.)

  2. I have a quick question about how you use the visual schedule. How do you adjust it when circumstances call for an unexpected change in the schedule, without throwing Leelo for a loop? Also, how far ahead do you present the schedule? Like, are you showing the next several things that will happen today? Or everything that's going to happen today? Or just the steps needed for the current task? What is the scope of the visual schedule, in the way your family uses it?

  3. Anonymous6:52 AM

    I love all of your helpful hints, Squid! Since I grew up unloved and was then abandoned (see whatever chapter I'm in, in your first CISWY book), I have no real basis for parenting by example. I've used many of your suggestions for my son, who is much like your Iz in brain power (in 3rd grade, his favorite subjects are Greek and Latin - good thing his PhD dad educates him!) but his maturity level is way below his age and genius standing. We've already included the written (sans icons) & implemented the daily schedule, which keeps him on track better than anything else we've tried (i.e no fits when it comes to telling him what he has to do next)...and we have to tell all four of our smart kids to ignore the bad behavior of their siblings. I'm also big on singing instructions to the kids - saw a fab documentary a number of years ago about how effective singing commands and communication was to autistic children and it made SO much sense to me because many of the children's shows that they are innundated with as little tykes have singing in them to learn and repeat things. So, although I know you're having a wild time of trying to keep things in some semblance of 'your' order -- all of your advice (especially on behavior issues) is taken to heart by this mom and very much appreciated!

  4. Like when I got to sit in on your session when I visited, I am grateful you posted these. Even with six more years of experience, we have to refresh ourselves on what helps.

  5. Hmm, yes, I was just thinking that many of these suggestions would be extremely helpful with our non-autistic but still sometimes quite bratty child. (If only I'd read and assimilated them before the professional photo session yesterday...ah, well.)

    Thank you so much for these!

  6. Thank you for making these ideas so clear - I do some of them with my toddler (toddlers are all bratty some of the time!) and I'm going to share this post with family and friends so they can see why I do what I do.

  7. Thank you so much for posting this here. We are going to start some of this right away.


Respectful disagreement encouraged.