Lots of parents and teachers ask me, ‘Can you give me some quick tips?’ with regard to the child diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder in their household or class. The short answer I’m afraid to say is…. no. It’s complicated.
Not so helpful in the short term, right? I agree. So, I’ve been thinking to myself, what could I say when I get asked this? If I had one wish to put out into the broader community, to teachers, parents and adults who work with kids, what would it be? Well actually, there is something, and I’m pretty sure that if everyone applied it they would find their kids easier to manage, life would run more smoothly and families and teachers would be happier. So, what is this magical advice? It is to ‘catch’ them being good!
We have such a focus on improvement, on ‘fixing’ behavioural problems, on ‘dealing’ with challenging behaviours, on ‘consequences’ for bad behaviour that we forget to stop, look and enjoy the good things! We don’t notice when the kids are doing the right thing. The best part is that when we take the time to stop and look, we realise they actually do the right thing a lot.
The ‘caught being good game’ is one for everyone. It will help your whole class and your whole house. For one, it helps us to be grateful, and present in the moment. It reminds us of all the good things that the kids around us do. Yes, it takes some time. Yes, we need to be switched on and thinking and looking. It’s true, it can be exhausting, but let me tell you, if you commit, it will be worth every last drop of energy you have.
If the warm fuzzies don’t do it for you, then be selfish and do it for the wrong reason! What do you want the child to do more of? Sit nicely on the mat? Stay at the table until the family is finished dinner? Clean their room? Do their homework? Then catch them sitting nicely. Praise them. Be specific. ‘I love how you’re sitting at the table nicely’; ‘It’s so great how you got your homework out by yourself’. Why does it work? Well, I don’t want to get all scientific on you. I realise not everyone is as fanatical as I am about the science of human behaviour.
To give you a little insight though, know that if there is a good behaviour, one that you like, if you want it to increase it you need to think about that ‘thing’ that happens immediately after that behaviour. If that ‘thing’ (your words, a treat, access to something fun) is rewarding for the child, then science says that it will increase how often that behaviour will happen in the future. If your reward does not have this effect, then I hate to break it to you but it’s not a reward. From my experience as a behaviour analyst, 99 kids out of 100, whether they have a diagnosis of autism, ADHD or are typically developing, love it when they get praise from the adults around them, especially their teachers and parents.
So, here’s your homework: walk away from this and pick one thing the child does that you want to see more of. Praise it all week. Be aware and alert to ‘catch’ them. Please tell me how it goes below- I can’t wait to hear.
Tineke Sibbel, M.Ed (Early Childhood Education), BCBA, Board Certified Behaviour Analyst and Clinical Director at Happy Oak Behavioural Consulting