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How We Set Up Children With Autism and Behavior Challenges to Fail 

Today I watched a child answer questions accurately, give great answers, generate a story all the while his shoes were off, he was jumping out of his seat every three seconds, and making silly faces.  Focusing and marveling at his ability to multi-task and provide accuracy with some admiration was my position.  Other adults…did not care as much about his accuracy or aptitude, but complained about his ability to sit and attend.

Don’t get me wrong,  I think sitting is an important skill.  But clearly, not a perquisite for learning, intellect, or expression of thought.  Sitting just makes us feel more comfortable, at ease, and allows people within a school setting to do their jobs easier.   The challenge is that NOT sitting, silly faces, behavior issues of noncompliance, carry the weight of gossiped negative reputation.  The kind of reputation where people do not smile when you enter a room, they don’t cheer you on, nor do they give you the room of “typical development” allowance granted to more compliant children.  Can you imagine walking into a learning environment daily where people are sad you came?!?  And they expect you to live up to the expectation of having a bad day.   Now imagine being a child carrying this obvious weight at least six hours daily.  This is what happens in classrooms, private therapy organizations, and schools across the country.

Not Fair is it?!? To judge someone based upon what we hear, even observed third hand, and then decide to treat them accordingly.  This is the unspoken truth at IEP meetings and within schools.  It’s what we do often as adults, if we are not careful, to one another.  So let’s not be super surprised that we impose this on to children.  Do I sound angry?  Well this is particularly a hot button issue for me.  I will try to keep my emotions in check :-).

Given that this adult judgement does not appear over night, it is safe to say this happens when we view children who have behavior challenges.  Honestly, you get one chance to make a great impression. Children with autism will often display certain behaviors that are deemed challenging.  Sometimes aggressive. Sometimes brutally honest language. Sometimes a little bit of both.  Often times a child autism and related behaviors makes one false move, this may often carry him through elementary school.  It’s not what is written as much as what is said between staff, staff to students, and within administration.  A shameful truth.  So where does this dilemma leave a parent? What is a parent to do?

1. Maintain a good running record of any incidents and documentation of such.

2. Understand and discuss the reinforcers being used within the school setting and support the team in creating items that are particular for the school environment knowing that the reinforcer should adjust based upon the task and its challenge.

3. Create and enroll your child in activities that support their interest and feelings of accomplishment and camaraderie.  This could include music, singing, lego clubs, train clubs and more.

4. Ensure that functional behavior assessments and/or analysis have and are being conducted.  A full day observation on more than one occasion would provide ample information about social interactions, antecedents to behavior.  Also include with this an evaluation of work task ease or difficulty, language provided during directions, and staff interviews (paraprofessionals, lunch staff, etc.).

5. Add a matrix to the behavior intervention plan.  A matrix is the schedule and strategies of implementation of the actual plan across your child’s day.  It is a large spreadsheet that displays each class by day, the providers, goals to be implemented, and specific strategies by each provider inclusive of time of day and class.  Although lengthy to create, I have found the matrix to be most helpful when observing for implementation and program planning purposes.

6. Schedule monthly matrix meetings.  This supports the IEP and its implementation as an active viable document to be followed and analyzed by each professional and the specific role they play.

7. Allow your child to feel all the feelings of happy, sad, frustration, joy, proud and honor each one through taking the time to language it for them and discuss the feeling states.

8. Maintain communication with the school and have targeted non IEP based meetings with the Director of Special Education to arrive at decisions and provide insight into program planning and how things are moving for your child.  Often times, this relationship can support better decisions for your child and those with similar profiles.

9. Consider exploring other educational options.

10. Attend professional development workshops and conferences to understand best practices within the fields of study in which your child receives services.  This will arm you with better tools in IEP development collaboration, matrix planning, and more.

Children are people with feelings and insight sometimes unexpressed.  When people with autism are looked over, looked beyond, and not honored because of specific behaviors (learned, allowed, or not yet fully shaped), this level of reputation following does not escape them at all.  This puts parents in a challenging position to knowingly send their children to an educational environment or therapy practice that has not found the love or like-ability yet.  Our job as practitioners is to not only find it, but be the people called to support our families and making our clients better for having known us.

Until next time…keep THRIVING!

~Landria Seals Green, MA., CCC-SLP, BCBA







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