Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Day Off From Autism

My wife recently told me about a mom she follows on Twitter who posted a tweet the other day asking God if her 11-year old son could please have a day off from his life with Asperger’s Syndrome, and while he was at it, could she too. It got me wondering how many other moms would love a day off; a day off from being a mom of a child with a special need. And, why not, a day off from being a mom.  Parenting is a blessing, but it is stressful. I don’t think there is anyone who would disagree. We all could use some time to just be ourselves, to not have someone else dependent on us, to not be needed for a little while, to have the freedom to complete a task without being interrupted. I could go on and on but I think you get the idea. 

When a family has a child with autism, there are even more unique stressors. Research indicates that parents of children with autism experience greater stress than parents of children with intellectual disabilities or other special needs. A child with autism may not be able to express love, making it more difficult for parents, because that moment when we see our child happy, when she gives us a hug and a kiss, is when we replenish our batteries.  Children with autism may not even be able to express their basic needs, leaving parents to guess why their child is crying. Is she thirsty? Hungry? Does something hurt? When parents cannot determine their child's needs, both parent and child are left feeling frustrated. A child’s frustration leads to behavior problems and then we’ve entered a vicious cycle, adding even more stress to the parent.

Other reasons for increased stress for families with a child with autism can include feelings of isolation, fear of reactions from society, feelings of grief or inadequacy, concerns over finances and what the future holds, and the challenges of navigating through the system of services.

While unfortunately we can’t give our children a day off from their disorder, we can provide them with an environment where they can feel a sense of belonging, understanding and acceptance by, for example, attending events for children with autism and their families, such as organized play-dates, parents support groups, parent trainings, conferences, etc. These events are not only good for the child, but they are a wonderful experience for parents. It provides comfort to know that you are not the only one experiencing a particularly stressful situation. In addition, parents can get the most useful advice from others facing similar challenges and using similar services and supports.

Don’t isolate yourself, get informed, learn the system, and don’t forget to take care of yourself. Yes, first.

Coming up: “Stress Management.” Don’t  miss it.

Daniel Adatto, BCBA

Friday, January 6, 2012

To Spank or Not to Spank

I may just be the only remaining person who still reads the paper version of the LA Times. But regardless of the state of the publishing industry, they still produce good content. What sparked my attention most recently is their article about the pros and cons of spanking. To read the full article click here,0,5993621.story
The LA Times cited that while corporal punishment in the home has been banned in 31 countries, no such prohibition exists in the United States. However, it is opposed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association, for good reason in my opinion.
I think every parent experiences those moments when we would like to implement some discipline techniques with our kids that are mostly illegal (even in the United States), but we refrain from doing so for obvious reasons. Not so obvious?
Well, we (parents, educators, therapists, etc.) should be in the business of building positive and socially desired behavioral repertoires. In plain English, we should teach our kids to be good people. Spanking only teaches aggression. When you spank, the message goes something like this: “If you have a problem, the solution is aggression.”
The author of the article said it well when she wrote “Just imagine that someone twice or three times as big as you starts hitting you — that's the way kids describe it.”
If you are still not convinced and decide to go ahead and spank anyway, I only ask that you don’t complain when your child hits you or others. So the next obvious question I hear you asking is “If spanking is a no-no, what can I do instead?”
The LA Times’ article offers a couple of ideas, such as explaining what the child is doing wrong, or removing your child from the situation. I like both strategies, especially the second one because when your child is acting out is probably not a good time for reasoning.
In the article Professor Larzelere proposes understanding your child, making sure your child understands the expectations, using reasoning and nonphysical consequences, such as time out and taking away privileges. “But if the child won’t cooperate, some kids need something more forceful to back it up. This is where back up spanking comes in.” Raise your hand if you feel like spanking professor Larzelere.  
I couldn’t help but wonder why there is little or no mention to positive methods of discipline that would teach and foster positive parent-child interactions. Here are some of the strategies I teach the parents I work with that have shown great results:
  • Reward your child for good behaviors, such as compliance with directions.  Motivating is a much more effective strategy than forcing. Always provide praise for good behaviors. As parents we focus too much on scolding or punishing our kids for bad behavior but we forget to reward the good ones. Catch them being good.
  • Provide your child with positive attention before he/she needs to act-out to get it.
  • Teach your child appropriate ways to obtain attention.
  • Ignore a bad behavior, which means not giving in to child’s requests or giving up on directions because your child is misbehaving. Do not ignore good behaviors.
  • If your child is acting-out, try distracting him/her with humor, act silly or change the topic of conversation to something your child is looking forward to, such as a weekend trip to Grandma’s. Redirecting your child’s focus of attention is sometimes enough to calm the storm.
  • Teach your child problem solving skills. Do not expect them to behave well out of the blue sky.
  • Teach your child how to appropriately ask for help.
  • Provide your child with consistent daily routines, including opportunities for physical activities and play.
  • The most important, and probably the most difficult, thing a parent should do during a tantrum is to remain calm. I cannot stress this enough. Children are like little sponges that absorb your anxiety. If you lose control while the child is throwing a tantrum, expect it to feed the tantrum.

Fostering loving and nurturing relations, teaching self-control, rewarding the good while ignoring the bad, teaching instead of policing. Sound impossible? In that case, get a pet; children might not be a good option for you. Already have kids? Consult with a good behaviorist.

Daniel Adatto, BCBA