Archive | December, 2010

A Simple Strategy to Increase Desirable Behaviors

I wanted to share with you an effective strategy that My Autism Specialist turned me on to earlier this year.  It is meant to help reduce undesirable behaviors or increase the frequency of desirable behaviors.  It employs the use of yellow cards and I have effectively used the strategy with both Toby, my 13-year old son with Autism and my 9-year old son, Zeke, who is typically-developing.

I was talking with My Autism Specialist, Joy, about some behaviors the boys were displaying that I wanted to eradicate.  Some examples of problem behaviors were:

  • Inappropriate dinner conversation
  • Complaining about picking up dirty clothes
  • Complaining about putting away clean clothes
  • Complaining about doing homework/reading
  • Not sharing toys with each other
  • Not turning off lights when leaving the basement
  • Complaining about eating foods they didn’t like
  • Not asking to use the computer before playing on it
  • Lying
  • Not waiting to talk***

Let’s focus on the last one, which is a huge pet peeve of mine.  With me, if two adults are speaking, a child should not interrupt the conversation unless he or she is acknowledged by one of the adults.  To me, this shows a lack of respect for others.  It drives me NUTS to be in the middle of a conversation only to have Toby or Zeke come in and say “Dad  Dad  Dad”  and then to begin tugging on my sleeve “Dad Dad Dad.”

Initially, I would ignore this for a few seconds and then look at them and sternly say “you are being very rude.”  Then I would continue the conversation making them stand there until there was a lull in the conversation when I would address them.

Joy said to me, “why don’t you use a rewards system?”

Yes, sure, I can do that.  What is it?

She said to set it up like this:

  • Reward the boys with tickets for displaying the good behaviors or the absence of the undesirable behaviors.
  • The tickets are collected and when they reach a set number, they can trade it in for the “prize”.
  • The tickets are to be handed out randomly and not on every display of the desired behaviors.
  • The system needs to be explained to the boys as well as what types of behaviors will be awarded tickets.
  • The kids cannot ask for the tickets, even if they have displayed the appropriate behaviors.  If they ask for a ticket, they are not given one and reminded about this rule but they are still praised for their behavior.
  • The awarded tickets need to be kept in a container that is highly visible so that they are constantly reminded about them.

I had some bright yellow paper of post-card thickness so the color of the cards is arbitrary.  I cut up the sheets into little 4”x3” cards and used them.

I determined the point system to be 5 yellow cards can be turned in for $1.00.  Both boys are motivated by money and are working on learning about saving money.  There is a reason for this that I have written about previously.

I bought clear, plastic cookie jars with lids for each of them and labeled them with their names.  The cookie jars were placed on the kitchen counter.  [They also ended up as their money jars since they placed the earned monies in the jars.]

I waited for an opportunity when I could hand them each a yellow card for displaying desirable behaviors.  Upon handing them the cards, I explained the rules to them as described above.

Very early on, they each asked for yellow cards after they displayed good behavior.  When they did this, I reminded them about what happens if they ask for a yellow card and then praised them for their behavior.  Shortly thereafter, they told Joy about the yellow cards and said to her “We can’t ask for the cards though.  Dad needs to give them to us.”

They got it.

When I first began implementing the system, I would award Toby with a yellow card for not interrupting adults in conversation.  This is in lieu of the “punishment” of telling him that he was being rude.  He probably earned this card about a half a dozen times before it became standard for him to not interrupt.  Then, I began to fade it.  Now, he doesn’t interrupt adult conversations and he also doesn’t get a card for it.

Complaining has been one behavior that this system has been instrumental in eradicating.  You can see above that “complaining” made the list four times!  It bothers the heck out of me.  I used to punish the boys when they complained about doing something.  Now, by rewarding the absence of complaining with a yellow card, the complaining has all but ceased.

Many of the behaviors above have been removed by this strategy.  I believe that if I were better at implementing it, all of the above behaviors would be eradicated.

This tactic has been extremely effective and within weeks you will see the elimination of problem behaviors if you are using the system effectively.  Try this out and report back to me in a month or so. I would appreciate hearing how well it has worked for you!

Post a comment here or send an email with comments or questions to

Thank you for reading.

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Mummy Why Do People Ignore Me ?

I was asked this question last night by my 4-year-old daughter!!!! Now I think in today’s society this is a sad state of affairs that a 4-year-old has picked up the fact that people are ignoring her. More worrying she seems to understand that they are ignoring her.

I know I have talked about this before but this is really something that needs to be addressed and dealt with.You see it’s not just my daughter that people ignore, in fact this is happening all over the country. All kids that are different get ignored and over looked but why??????, why ????? does this continue to happen …..

Whats the matter? Don’t people realize these children have feelings? Of course they do they are even more sensitive than a “normal” child at times ,because in their world everyone is happy and they get upset if everyone is not happy. Do you know it really upsets me when these people ignore these special angels, more so when it my own children they are ignoring. There is nothing I can do everyone has a right to their opinion but then every child has the right to be treated equally. So why don’t people get to know these special angels and see how special they really are. I know a little boy who can’t talk but when he smiles and laughs his whole face lights up, its wonderful to see.

Here is an example of what I mean. All the kids were coming out of the class because it was home time, one of the parents actually walked away so she did not have to go past my daughter. I thought oh maybe she had to move for what ever reason. Well today my daughter was one of the first out, this same parent moved out-of-the-way as my daughter approached her. It wasn’t a subtle move it was a very clear I’m avoiding you. Talk about small mindedness.

So back to my question Why do people ignore children that are different. The answer is I don’t honestly know. All I can do is keep trying to raise awareness for these special angels. So if you are reading this blog feel free to tell people about it, RT on twitter or share on Facebook, the more people who know and understand these special angels . The more chance these angels have of making it in this world

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The dangers in trying to define the “face of Autism”

I’ve found over the years that the real trick in raising Autism awareness is in describing what it is to people. It’s such a diverse and complicated subject that we can find that we end up contradicting ourselves, confusing our listeners or worse, simplifying it (dumbing it down) so much that it really doesn’t do it any justice.

In my opinion, ‘spectrum’ isn’t nearly vast enough to explain all of what Autism can encompass… perhaps Autism Universe Disorder would have been more accurate. I actually read one time where some doctors said that “cloud” is more accurate than “spectrum” since it suggests a 3 dimensional range of possibilities.

Anyway, I digress…

The real problem with it being so varied is that for most of us, our own loved ones (usually children) are our point of reference. We watch the movies, read the books and do the research but the one we care about, right in front of us, is the true face of Autism in our world.

From there, we branch out to become supportive of each other, to share stories and advice and prove to be quite successful in that endeavour but ultimately we all eventually find that one person that sees Autism in a very different light than we do.

Whether we find our children to be amazing people with limitless potential or we see our children as being extremely low functioning victims of a life long paralysing disorder… we’ll find others out there that see Autism quite differently.

The real danger in this is that one will feel pity for the other, or resentment, or jealousy, or… well, you get the idea. A conflicting opinion of something of such epic importance in our lives can make for a very heated discussion if not handled with care.

To illustrate this point, I bring up a well known video that Autism Speaks once produced, where it tried to paint a picture of what Autism is.. giving it not just a face, but a rather eery voice:


Now, if you have a child that is doing well with Autism/Aspergers, or you have Autism/Aspergers yourself, you will likely be quite angered and even offended by that video. However, if you have a child that is severely low functioning due to Autism, there’s a good chance that it strikes an all too familiar chord with you.

The real tragedy in this video is that it ever tried to put a face on Autism in the first place.

The good news is that for some of us, myself included, hard work can actually help you go from agreeing with that video to not agreeing with that video as your child progresses… my son, Cameron, went from non-verbal at 2 years old to being one of the brightest and most social in his class at school.

You see, 3 years ago, I would have watched that video and understood quite well what they were attempting to do… but today, for me, this is the face of Autism that I see:

I do my utmost best to not offend people as I understand how hard it can be if your child is unable to talk to you or show that they love you but I can also understand if your child is memorizing Pi to 20,000+ places. It’s a very wide spectrum… a universe wide!

The next time someone asks you what Autism is, do your very best to explain it clearly, concisely and without bias. Not for my sake, but for your own as well as the people that might hear/read what you say.

Our children are not a victim of a scary voiced predator nor are they endowed with super powers making them superior to the rest of us. But they are somewhere in between… and it’s a pretty big space in there.

The face of Autism is as unique as the face of the person that you see it in.

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A calm talk with my son about rewards, consequences and his behavior

As I have written about before, Fridays tend to be the worst day of the week for Cameron, every week he goes to school, deals with his little brother, has to deal with us parents and come Friday, his behaviour becomes a real issue.

This passed Friday was no exception, he woke up in a bad mood, being defiant and talking back to us in regards to just about everything. A simple request such as “Cameron, can you please put on your socks?” was met with him yelling back at us “No! I not go to school, I not put on my socks!”

ScreamingThere’s only an hour between his wake up time and the bus arriving but his defiant, lashing out behaviour was more than enough for me to send him to his room long before the bus arrived. He continued to yell back at me from the room.

I waited for only a minute before calmly walking in and sitting next to him on his bed.

I said to him “What good does it do for you to behave bad like this? Will it make me want to give you treats and let you play games?”

He shook his head “no”, without saying a word.

I then said “Today is Friday, which means that tomorrow you have no school. Do you think you’ll get to have lots of fun tomorrow by being really bad today?”

Again, he shook his head “no”.

I continued “Do you think I’d be happier and want to do more fun things with you this week-end if you were a good boy?”

He nodded his head “yes”.

Along the same path, I said “do you think being good at school today will mean having more fun this week-end?”

He nodded again, “yes”.

This was important, because without having ever said a word, he agreed with me that behaving good means having more fun, getting more rewards. He also recognized that behaving poorly meant getting less treats and less fun.

So finally I asked him “are you done being grumpy? Do you want to try hard to be good now so we can have a good week-end?”

He nodded “yes”.

We left his room and continued to get ready to go outside. While getting his snow pants on, he finally spoke, saying “Dad, I’ll be good today, I promise.”

Sure enough, he came home from school with a big smile, telling me that he had no thinking chairs (time outs). I checked his book (from his teachers) and they said that he must have really turned it around because he had a really great day at school. He listened well, he participated in everything and had no time outs.

Now, I recognize that this won’t change things for the rest of his life but it’s a huge breakthrough, one that I know can be repeated. He’s proven to me that he understands the consequences of his actions, even the ones he has little control over, such as his meltdowns.

And while he will still lash out and be defiant, at least now I know that I can work with him to get through it.

It’s hard sometimes, as parents, to stay calm and try the ‘logic’ approach rather than just letting them stay in their room for a while “to think about it”. It’s especially hard if your child has Autism and you have no way of knowing just how much they understand or can process. But it’s still worth trying anyway because you may just be pleasantly surprised… as I was.

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5 things to tell every parent right after their child is diagnosed

Learn, Learn, Learn, Learn, Learn!!

What? Oh, you expected an intro and information and conclusion and so forth… right.

Recently AutismSpeaks asked on Facebook and Twitter what 5 things that people would tell parents right after their child was diagnosed. Even though there was hundreds of really great answers, I found that you could boil them all down into one fundamental response… “learn”. Every answer involved the parents having to learn one thing or another!

So having boiled it down to one answer, which encompasses them all but is still a little too vague entirely on it’s own, I will broaden it out to answer the original question: what 5 things would you tell a parent right after their child is diagnosed with Autism?

1. Learn what Autism is.

LearnThe scariest part of getting the diagnosis is that most of us really don’t know what Autism actually is at the time and so our minds start racing about all the things that must be wrong with our children and all the ways their future is going to be impacted. We start going through our memory files trying to think of every single thing we’ve ever learned or heard about relating to Autism.

The only way to really conquer a fear of the unknown is to learn about it. Don’t bother yourself with causes and cures, just learn what it is. Talk to your doctors and also hit the information super highway to learn how Autism affects people. As you learn the signs, symptoms and effects it has, you’ll begin to recognize them in your child. It’s the first step to learning how those symptoms are treated.

2. Learn What Services Are Available To You

This has to be your second step because early intervention is the key to helping your child overcome Autism and live a productive life. Unfortunately, not all treatments/therapies are covered for you, not all are free, not all of them work, not all of them available to all people and many, especially the good ones, have a rather long wait list.

The sooner you find the best places to go for help, the sooner you can get in the door to talk to them. It may be months or even years down the road so you have to find these places ASAP.

Also, some places will take you but not until after you’re approved for funding, or some other stipulation and again, applying right away means you get the paperwork done faster.

3. Learn the treatments, therapies, diets, etc. yourself

If you’ve done #1 and #2, you’ll find yourself quickly thrown into terminology hell with abbreviations thrown at you from every direction, including ABA, IBI, GFCF, IEP and on and on. You’ll learn them as you go, don’t stress out over it.

It’s very important to remember to take notes all along the way!

Some of these things will work brilliantly for your child and some will not. The very nature of Autism is that no one solution works for everyone.  So you may need to keep track of the results of each attempt so that you can tell what is and what isn’t working.

More so than that, many therapies are effective but so very limited. That is to say, you may have speech therapy appointments once a week which help a lot, but how much more would it help if it was daily instead of weekly??

Ask for notes and information on how you can continue the work at home. Ask for books or copies of what they work on that week so that you can reinforce the work.

If it’s a nutritionist, ask for a list of essential foods to try for, ask for suggestions on how to get a picky eater to eat the things they have to instead of just what they want to.

Never just expect a professional to do all of the work for you. They are professionals but they can only do so much because it’s not just your child that needs them. However you are not them. You can devote your time to one child far better than they can. But you’ll need the information and tools to do it.

Also, maybe one day you’ll meet another parent along the way that is really struggling and can’t get the same help you did, and you’ll have all that information for them to be able to use if they have to!

4. Learn where the support is.

The one good thing about Autism being everywhere is that there are so many people out there going through similar situations. Someone you are going to deal with will likely have some information on how to get involved with a support group, whether it’s your doctors, therapists, teachers, nutritionists… what ever, keep asking them all if they know of any.

Do not be shy.

Children with Autism are extremely diverse and you’re very likely to find parents that have children that are extremely low functioning, some that are high functioning, some that have had made great progress in getting their children developing and even some poor parents that have had their child regress.

They all have information to share and support to give. And they all have had to start at the same place… scared of the unknown. So don’t feel you don’t belong because you have nothing to share yet. You will, in time.

Also, remember that the Internet is there to help out. It can be daunting at times, all these people from all over the world that you don’t know but they’re real people and will help you just as much as a person face to face can. In fact, you will likely find a much larger support group online since you literally have the whole world at your finger tips. Twitter and Facebook groups/pages are a great place to start but there are also many forums and such to find.

5. Learn to be a super hero

That sounds a little strange but when you think about it, a super hero is compassionate, patient, strong, capable of doing amazing feats… that’s going to be you. In time.

I used to enjoy reading comic books, especially the early stage comic books where the hero has to learn what it takes to be a hero… and I find that it’s very similar to what you’re going to go through.

You’re going to learn to be far more patient than you ever thought you could be. You’re going to learn that all those children you thought were being bad actually weren’t. That they really wanted to be good kids. You’re going to learn that all those “weird” people that seem extremely socially awkward really aren’t that weird after all. You’re going to stand up and make sure that people are treated far better than they have been, when before you might have let it go or just said something without getting too involved.

On top of all that, unlike most parents that are forced to become doctors, psychiatrists, chauffeurs, banks and so forth, you’re also going to have to become a researcher, scientist, psychologist, therapist, nutritionist, supporter, event manager and even more.

It sounds pretty daunting actually, but the good news is that even though it does happen pretty fast, it’s still not over night. You’ll tackle each step as it comes along the way.

But in the end, so long as you never give up and you keep in mind who it is that you’re doing it for… when your child grows up and becomes capable of far more than what people told you they could do way back when they were first diagnosed… you’ll be a super hero.

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