Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Posts Tagged ‘positive reinforcement

Q is for Quiet

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And you thought I’d struggle with a ‘Q’ post!  Quiet is not a word I often associate with my children.  They both seem to make more noise than your average little one.  I tend to think of quietness or loudness being a personality trait.  In many ways it seems fixed, but as with all things to do with personality- nothing is set in stone.

I was a very quiet and shy child.  I’m still very much an introvert who likes being at home, and can find busy social events somewhat tiring.  But I’m far less shy and quiet than I once was.  Perhaps some people meeting me now wouldn’t consider me that way at all.  Maybe the social demands on me have required a stronger presence.  Maybe character is really something that shifts depending on the situation.

Spectrummy Daddy and our children don’t tend to be quiet very often.  Cubby talks incessantly around his family and friends, but becomes quieter when he is nervous.  When he first started school, his teacher wasn’t sure he was verbal.  His current teacher wonders if he can ever stop talking.

While peace and quiet is a state I relish, when it comes to Pudding, it can mean something is very wrong.  If she is very upset or overwhelmed, she retreats into herself.  It is agony for a mother to see her child hurting without knowing the cause.  Believe me when I say I prefer her meltdowns to be of the explosive kind.  That way we are at least immediately aware of how she feels, and we can do our best to get her needs met.

Quiet Time

So, partly because it seems unnatural for my family to be quiet, and partly because withdrawal is far worse, we don’t make many demands on the children to be quiet.  Little children are seen and heard, expressing themselves and engaging with us.

But there are times when quiet is necessary, and I’ve realized lately that at those times, Pudding appears to be incapable of being quiet.  Recently at a gathering at the Consulate, Pudding was fine until speeches were being made and I asked her to be quiet.  From that point on, she became disruptive and demanding.  Our community is very supportive, but as they were the only children there, I couldn’t help but feel the focus of unwanted attention.

I tried distracting her with snacks.  She would loudly refuse them, or demand others.  I tired distracting her with books, “I’M READING…PUDDING’S READING…I’M READING A BOOK!” and drawing, “PUDDING’S DRAWING A PICTURE, I’M DRAWING A PICTURE, MUMMY DRAW A PICTURE!.”  The more embarrassed I became, the more she acted up.  Eventually I removed her from the situation, and she immediately calmed down.

I knew I was doing something wrong, but I was too close to the problem to figure out a solution.  Yesterday I raised the issue in a meeting with Pudding’s therapeutic team, who immediately saw where I’d gone wrong, and offered alternative approaches.

They suggested looking at the ability to keep quiet, a real struggle for a child with autism and ADHD, as a skill that she needs to learn.  The best time to learn a skill is not in socially demanding situations, but when everyone is calm and comfortable (including me).  Oh I know, so obvious once somebody else points it out!

Pudding is not in an ABA program, but because the intended result (being quiet) is so inherently unrewarding for her, this was a good occasion to use a positive reinforcement approach.  So yesterday we made a game of it with Pudding and Cubby.  We played “Quiet Time” using a one minute countdown on my phone.  If they managed to keep quiet for the whole minute, they earned a pink smartie (imagine a european M&M, American readers).  Pudding managed it twice, but Cubby was the real winner at this game.  I probably need to reduce the length of time to 30 seconds next time we play, and then increase it from there.

It is too early yet to tell if this approach will work, or if Pudding will be able to generalize it to more demanding situations.  But I like to think that this is a skill she can learn, rather than a fixed character trait.  After all, if I can learn to become more forward and resolute in advocating for my children, that surely means that we can nurture the traits in ourselves that are most useful to us at any given time.

So Q is for Quiet.  A handy skill at times, but not always the most essential tool.  The art of knowing when to keep quiet and when to speak out is a skill most of us keep developing throughout our lives.  I’m certain my children will be no exception.

This post is part of my A-Z series.  You can read the rest by clicking >here<.

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Written by Spectrummy Mummy

July 12, 2012 at 10:40 am

Positive Reinforcement

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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.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

January 24, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Uh-oh, what happened?

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Pudding: Uh-oh, what happened?

Me: …. (I am stunned into silence)

The photo above was the sight that greeted me when I went to get Pudding from the basement to tell her that her dinner was ready.  She had been left alone for 25 minutes, while I prepared dinner.  Not content with getting out every toy she and her brother own, she had also put on a DVD by herself (kudos on that one, she isn’t 4 until December), got into the closet and pulled out all the craft supplies.  The ones that are up high and unreachable.  Hmm.  She knows I get angry when she makes a mess, so she hastened to clean up.  The liquid you can see on the floor is a fusion of glue, and water that she had attempted to clean with.  It is smeared onto her dress, the walls, the table, the light switch, pretty much any place her too-tall body could get to.  The paper towels she had also used in her “clean-up” had turned the floor into a giant puddle of paper-mache.  Spectacular.

This isn’t the worst thing she has done, but it is the most recent.  Last week there was a very similar situation with paint (washable, thank goodness).  I’d love to use some positive reinforcement to fix this problem, but when she isn’t rewarded immediately, it doesn’t seem to work.  She is all about the instant gratification.  This only happens when I’m busy elsewhere, so we looked to punishment instead.  The “naughty chair” didn’t work with the paints, so Spectrummy Daddy and I discussed taking it up a notch.  For the rest of the week, there will be no dresses, no nightgowns, and no mummy putting her to bed.  Given that this resulted in bedtime taking 90 minutes longer than usual, it may be a long week.

So, as she was the orchestrator of the mayhem, why did Pudding ask me what had happened?  The answer will be in my next post about echolalia, which will go up some time after I’ve finished tidying up down there.  Until then, because I need to know we aren’t the only parents this happens to, please leave a comment with even worse escapades- either your own or those of your children.  Tell me: uh-oh, what happened…?

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

August 30, 2010 at 8:59 pm