“Success begets success”
I had a teacher once (Don Gnecco, pronounced like the wafer) who used to say that all the time. It was his belief that if someone attempted something and was successful in that attempt, they would store away the feeling of having accomplished something, and would therefore be more willing to try something harder the next time.
Imagine if you were asked to do the impossible – lift a boulder. How many times would you try before giving up? Everyone likes a challenge, but eventually your failure will lead to quitting. If you began with a pebble, and each successive attempt was a bigger and bigger stone, you’d probably give it your best.
What if your life was a metaphoric boulder? What if each and every day you were asked to do things that were “too hard, too much, and too long“? How would you approach things? What would your attitude be?
Here’s another thought for you:
Behaviors result from unmet needs.
We all want to be successful. We all want to feel safe. We all want to feel valued for our contributions. I think the kid who acts out in class, and knocks his classmates’ books on the floor, and gets sent to the principal’s office, does so in some part to get out of being called to the front to work out the math problem on the board. It’s somehow easier to be thought of as a disruptive kid than a stupid one. The lack of confidence led to the outburst, which essentially accomplished the goal of not being called on in class – which continues to hide the insecurity.
There’s a concept in teaching, and in therapy, too, called the Just Right Challenge. I’m not going to get my patient to give themselves wholly to my treatments until I get them to believe that they’ll be successful. People know when you’re dumbing it down for them, too. You have to push hard enough to make them proud when they succeed, while not pushing so hard they “know” they’ll fail.
Everything to this point relates well with neurotypicals (NTs), but is even more potent for kids with autism. Maybe the work isn’t too hard and the load isn’t too much, but maybe sitting in the classroom with the flickering fluorescent lights with all the other kids for 40 minutes is just too long. Maybe our child with autism has all they can do to survive in this environment: with their left shoe tied too tightly, and kid who won’t quit tapping his pencil on his desk. Add to that multiplication tables and you get some sort of behavioral outburst.
Suddenly we’re dealing with a difficult kid who’s been labeled with “bad behavior.”
I introduce to you the concept of a Sensory Break.
Sometimes kids with ASD (not to mention NTs) need to take a minute to reset their sensory processing systems before the whole thing overheats. I don’t just mean a walk in the hallway, or a quiet minute of reflection. This usually entails something like jumping, running, compression; or a combination. For Jake, it may mean running on the treadmill for a few minutes, or jumping on the trampoline. The joint compressive benefit of these tasks can help regulate his entire system. Sometimes it means carrying a heavy pail filled with rice or sand, or maybe using a tennis balls to rub scuff marks off the floor. This sort of heavy work has great benefit to Jake as well. He might just need to be squished between two bean-bag chairs for a few minutes.
It’s not usually enough to remove him from the offending stimulus, but also to “reset” his ability to deal with it. The thing with Jake is, if he starts his day off with a really bad experience, it may very well ruin the remainder of his day. He can’t always just shrug off getting to the car 4 minutes after his schedule dictates; or maybe it was raining so he couldn’t play with his friends outside of the school before the bell rings (which may be the norm).
If he overhears someone mention the fire drill that’s coming up in a couple of days, he’ll be on edge every minute of every day until that alarm goes off and those lights start flashing.
The take-home message is this: Meet the kids needs not only in a physical/emotional/spiritual way, but also tend to their sensory processing needs, and your behaviors will be greatly reduced.
More on how to create a sensory-friendly room, and therefore cut down on your behavioral problems, coming up in my next post.