Pudding attends a preschool autism class which is based on a modified ABA approach to learning. Positive reinforcement is very motivating to her at this point in her development. In fact, any and all other discipline methods we have tried have been spectacular failures. She has a tendency to withdraw and shut down at the merest hint of disapproval or punishment, which is the very opposite of what we want. Nonetheless, positive reinforcement can be really difficult to apply at home. I prefer to use it for certain behaviors that interfere with her daily life. Some things I just allow to be, the kid has a hard enough time keeping herself together outside of the home, this should be her sanctuary.
When we do it, it works. Remember how easily she came around to vacuum cleaners? I do. Recently we went out to a restaurant. Atypically for an atypical kid, Pudding LOVES going to restaurants. For many parents of kids on the spectrum, going to a restaurant is so awful they just stop doing it. When we find a restaurant that can deal with all the allergy stuff, it usually goes great. Usually. Just lately Pudding and Cubby have both been going through a rough spell with sleeping. This particular day, we were all exhausted. After a heavy night, and a trying day, the last thing I felt like doing was cooking dinner for the family, so we went out.
Almost as soon as we walked in, I realized it was a mistake. When she is overtired, Pudding is soon overloaded. We pulled out the iPad and tortilla chips to keep her going. When her food arrived, she angrily pushed it away and demanded more chips. Had it not been for the fact that she hadn’t eaten much that day, I’d have probably conceded and given her the whole bag, but she really needed to eat something more nutritious. I gave her a chip, and put a small amount of chicken and vegetables on her plate. She again pushed it away. I took all the food away, apart from one bite-sized piece of chicken. She asked for another chip, and I pointed at the plate. She ate the chicken. I lavished her with praise, and gave her the chip. Next I added a little more chicken and vegetables to the plate. She again asked for a chip, and I pointed at the plate. She ate everything on the plate, so I gave her a couple of chips, and refilled the plate. We repeated the process until she finished her meal. Everybody got what they wanted, and we left the restaurant as quickly as possible- it wasn’t an evening to dawdle!
When it works, it works. Break it up into a manageable task, reward each step. Simple. Positive reinforcement is a great tool when a behavior needs to be changed. The thing is, if you try it and it doesn’t work, there is more going on than a behavioral issue. That is what I found out the next time I tried it. I’ll tell you about that tomorrow.