This is a list of things I tell parents to do or not do when I do workshops or initial parent training. This list is obviously not comprehensive and just covers some of the KEY DOs and DONTs when it comes to interacting with a child (not just autistic children by the way, this could actually be applied to people in general).
- DO – think WHY is my child doing this = before you respond to a behavior, make sure you determine why your child is doing the behavior. If your child is engaging in inappropriate behavior every time you are on the phone, he is probably doing it for attention. If your child throws a tantrum every time you ask him to do something, he is probably doing it to get out of what you asked him to do. If your child hits you every time you deny access to something, she is probably trying to gain access to that item. Most of the time the reasons aren’t as clear as this but you can start taking notes for yourself on what happened right before the behavior and what you did after the behavior. You will generally see a consistent pattern of something happening right before the behavior (presentation of a demand or removal of a preferred item or lack of attention) and/or right after the behavior (the demand was removed, the item was given to the child, the child received attention)
- DON’T – allow access to maintaining consequence when inappropriate behavior occurs = Once you know why your child is doing the behavior. You need to flip the tables. If you have been removing the demand, giving your child attention, or allowing your child to access the item when he engages in inappropriate behavior STOP. DON’T DO IT. I know I know, easier said then done, but this is the most effective way to stop the inappropriate behavior. You might see a slight burst when you first stop because your child will be trying to push you until you give in. It is similar to when you put money in a soda machine and you don’t receive soda but usually you do receive soda. Do you just walk away? No! you kick the machine, you shake the machine, you push the button harder, you have an extinction burst. But do you stand there and do that until you get a soda? Most likely not, you walk away after a few minutes of trying. If every time you put money in that machine, it took your money and didn’t give you a soda, you would stop bursting and stop using that machine. Just like your child will stop trying to use inappropriate behavior to: escape demands, get your attention, or access an item.
- DO -allow a TON of access to maintaining consequence when appropriate behavior occurs = When your child engages in appropriate behavior: asks for a break, complies nicely with what you ask him to do (even if it is something preferred), asks for your attention (could be a gesture, could be a tap, could be “hey look”), waits nicely for an item or asks nicely for an item back, GIVE THEM THE CONSEQUENCE YOU IDENTIFIED EARLIER. Remove the demand, give them access to attention, allow them to have the item they are wanting. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS make sure you are giving them these consequences when they are doing behaviors that need to increase. If you are not sure, think to yourself “is this a behavior that the child should be doing more of or less of?” If it is something the child should be doing more of, give them the consequence they are seeking. If it is something they should be doing less of, DO NOT ALLOW access to the consequence they are seeking.
- DO -CATCH THEM BEING GOOD =
- DO – follow through, follow through, follow through = If you ask your child to do something or stop something, you absolutely must follow through. If you don’t follow through, your child learns that he/she does not have to listen to you. I know life can be crazy and it can be hard to follow through but it will be harder to teach your child if your child thinks he does not have to do what you ask him to do. If you don’t have time to follow through on a demand, DON’T PRESENT THE DEMAND. If you want your child to pick up his toys but need to leave to pick up your other child at school in 2 minutes and you know it takes your child at least 5 minutes to even start picking up toys, DON’T ask him to pick up toys until you get back and have more time. Now this does not mean never ask your child to do things. It simply means, when you present a demand, make sure you are going to be able to follow through. The more you follow through, the less you will see your child not doing what you ask. Follow through is best done by: SAY SHOW DO, which is explained below. Remember to praise your child and provide access to positive consequences when he/she does what you ask right away or with little prompting.
- DO – use prompts Say, Show, Do. = This means when you ask your child to do something. Give your child a few seconds to comply, then show them how to do it either by gesturing to the item or modeling what you want them to do, then help them do the demand using gentle physical prompts. This does not mean DO the demand for the child. This means hold the child’s hands and help them do the demand. Some children are prompt dependent and/or enjoy having someone help them do the task though. If you notice your child always not complying and waiting for you to help them with the demand, you will have to be very careful about using physical prompts (use light taps and lots of verbals, visuals, and gestures). Also make sure your child receives access to positive consequences for doing the task by themselves or with less prompting than usual.
- DON’T- frustrate your child = always keep in mind what your child is capable of doing. You want to push your child to reach the next step of a skill but do not present tasks that are too difficult for them to complete. If you would like to try a new task with your child, help your child through the task and provide lots of praise for trying. If you are trying to have your child advance to the next step on a task, don’t assume they will be able to do the harder step consistently. This happens frequently with language development. Just because you heard your child say a word 1 time doesn’t mean your child will be able to consistently say that word. This is where using varying levels of reinforcement can help. If your child does something that is close to what they need to be doing (says B instead of BOOK), allow a little bit of access to reinforcement (a few seconds). If your child does something even closer (says boo instead of book) to what they need to be doing and new for them, allow a lot of access to reinforcement (a few minutes or the whole item depending on the reinforcer). If your child does what they are needing to do (says book), allow complete access to the reinforcer for several minutes. If you are using edibles for reinforcement, you can give a little piece, a bigger piece, and then the biggest piece. DO NOT present the demand to your child over and over and over hoping that they will be able to do it. Practice with them, but do it throughout the day and only practice a few times in a row. If your child is frustrated, you will get frustrated, and very little progress will be made.
- DO – HAVE FUN = Last but definitely not least, HAVE FUN with your child. It can be difficult sometimes but be goofy, follow their lead, engage in some of the fun behaviors they engage in and then expose them to things that other children find fun. A lot of children love tickles, songs, silly faces, jumping, spinning, etc. Incorporate activities that you know are fun for your child while working on demands. Sing a song and do movements to work on imitation, jump on a trampoline and pause to label items outside, make silly faces to each other and then intersperse a quick demand, etc.