Tag Archives | behavior

Turning obsession into good behavior

My boys each got handheld video games for Christmas, Cameron got the Nintendo DS and Tyler got a leapfrog. We knew that they’d like them but, as is the case with many children, they’ve become the subject of complete obsession. The first question in the morning is if they can play their games and it continues on until it’s the last question of the day.

If they had their way they’d be staring at those games through out the entire day.

Behavior ChartMy wife had the idea to get a large green piece of paper and make a chart for each of them. She filled the chart with all sorts of things from chores to bad behaviors and at the end of the day, we check to see what they did and didn’t do… for all the good things, they get a sticker, for the bad, they get an X.

An example of some of the chores would be putting dishes into the sink, tidying up their toys, making their beds… and some examples of the bad behaviors that made it onto the board are “no yelling”, “no hitting” and so forth. If at the end of the day, they didn’t fight, they get stickers. There are some good behaviors listed as well, of course, such as “playing nicely together” and “sharing”.

At the end of each day, we all gather at the chart and see what they did well and what they didn’t do or worse, got X’s on. The first day, Tyler cried when we asked him to turn off his game. Turning off their games without complaining is on the list. Well, for his outburst, he got an X.

Each day, when they ask to do something they like, such as playing their games, we review the chart for the day before. If they did well, then yes… they get some video game time. If they got X’s or missed a bunch of things, then they lose out on game time. That means they had better improve if they want to have game time the next day.

It’s an excellent lesson in cause and effect. I’m not sure this system will stay exactly as is but there’s no reason that this can’t continue on for many years… eventually moving on to dictating how much allowance they get when they’re older.

Hopefully, in time, it’ll sink in with them that their entire lives can be met with nice rewards if only they put in the effort in advance.

It’s definitely not a new system, I’m preaching to the choir by telling you all of this. I’m not trying to give you any new ideas, just let you know what we’re doing around the Duncan household these days. So far it’s been a huge success.

Oh, by the way, one thing I did want to mention though is that Cameron is 5.5 years old and Tyler is 3. Cameron has Autism, Tyler does not. This system can be started at any age really but I find that their ages right now are ideal.

It has especially been great for Cameron who so very desperately needs a good routine in his life. Not only does this give him a list of things to do each and every day but it encourages him to over come some of those basic Autism tendencies, such as hitting and meltdowns. When he begins to lose control, we remind him that he’ll get an X and lose out on game time tomorrow and it helps him to calm it back down.

The best part about it all, I think, is how proud they are each day of all the stickers they got for doing so well.

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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 [email protected].

Thank you for reading.

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Bad Behavior You Say? I Say, Be Thankful!

Recently my son has taken to calling other people names, this type of behaviour is rather normal for all children really. They pick it up from movies, television, other children and really, anyone. Ever called your table stupid after you stubbed your toe on it? Children pick it up quickly.

We’ve tried to keep on top of that with Cameron, explaining to him how it is rude, not nice, hurts people… and so forth. He understands but it’s an emotional response so really, it’s just a matter of getting through it with him. In time, he’ll dial it down, I’m sure… I hope.

We moved a couple of months ago and so he was put onto a new bus, he rides on a special needs bus with a bus driver and another lady who talks to them, tells stories and so forth… a helper. So these were new people to Cameron added on to the fact that he didn’t want to be on a bus that was different from what he had come to accept as part of his regular routine.

As part of that old routine, Cameron used to fall asleep on the bus ride home from school, recharging his batteries for more play time at home, but on this new bus, the helper lady constantly tried to talk to him, interact with him… ultimately, annoy him.

The tension escalated until Cameron began calling her names, such as stupid and dumb… and screaming at her. The bus driver was not happy and told us, the parents, before going to file a report. Three reports and he is removed from the bus.

I can not begin to explain my confusion and frustration. This is a school bus for special needs children and him calling the lady stupid will have him removed?? I understand that it’s not exactly great that he does it but he’s a 4 year old with Autism.

I took a moment with the bus driver and explained myself, Cameron and the situation… it went something like this:

“Look, I’m not happy that he’s calling anyone names or saying hurtful things, but you have to understand that 1.5 years ago, he had yet to say his first word and we were told that he might not say anything for years. On top of that, many Autistic children are outright violent, even if not provoked. So yes, I wish he didn’t say mean things but to be speaking at all, and to be lashing out with words rather than fists… it’s a huge blessing to me! I still need to learn how to help him reel the things he says back in but in all honesty, I’m thankful that he’s capable of expressing himself.

I will work with him on stopping the name calling, but in the meantime, just leave him alone. If you continue to get in his space when all he wants to do is zone out, or sleep, then I can’t really blame him for lashing out like that. Just don’t give him any attention at that time of day unless he asks you and I’m sure you’ll be just fine.”

And sure enough, I haven’t heard a word about it again since. But that doesn’t mean I won’t bring it up again. This is supposed to be an environment that is supportive and understanding.. that little blue wheelchair symbol is on the side of the bus for a reason. I understand that they may not have formal training because they’re just driving a bus but that’s still no excuse.

If my child starts hitting you in the face while you’re trying to drive the bus, then yes… we have a problem. But if you get in his face and he calls you a name, I’m sorry, but I can’t be anything but thankful that he’s at the level he is. Because the alternative is a whole lot scarier.

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