Finding Balance Between Punishment and Reinforcement

A few weeks ago one of my friends bought a new puppy. She was telling me that the puppy continued to go after one specific piece of wood furniture even after several reprimands. I smirked as my friend was telling me this because I knew exactly what was going on. Behavior is relatively similar for animals as well as for humans. Either the puppy’s desire to eat the wood furniture was stronger than the reprimand or the puppy enjoyed any kind of attention, even negative. 

Here’s the thing, punishment isn’t inherently bad. Punishment has immediate effects and can be useful. However, it has severe negative effects and needs to be used with an alternative behavior to replace it. For instance, the reprimand my friend’s puppy was continuing to receive wasn’t enough to stop the behavior. What the puppy needed was for them to show her what was acceptable behavior. 

Many of us can remember a time where we were in trouble and consequently received a reprimand, time out, or sent to our rooms. Research shows that with long periods of punishment and without properly including an alternative behavior some of these will occur: 

  • Higher rates of aggression from the one being punished
  • Avoidance of the person implementing the punishment
  • Guilt/shame

Reinforcement, even though it is used more frequently in behavior analysis because of the side effects being less intense, has side effects as well. 

  • Decrease in desired behavior in other settings (doing homework at home but failing to do work at school)
  • Nagging to gain reinforcement
  • Becoming dependent on the reinforcer to engage in the behavior (only does chores when receiving the reinforcer)

Creating a positive and safe environment in your home is all about finding balance between punishment and reinforcement. 

The biggest things to remember are: 

  1. Why is the behavior happening? (Escape, Attention, for a Tangible item, self-stimulatory/automatic behavior)
  2. What method will produce the best results? If the behavior is dangerous than a quicker method such as punishment could produce fast results, however it could also be damaging if it increases the dangerous behavior (such as aggression becoming heightened) 
  3. What is the alternative/expected behavior? Have you identified the behavior you would like to see? Have you verbally expressed this with your child? 
  4. Have you modeled or role played the alternative/expected behavior? Everyone learns in different ways. While some of us are auditory and can understand with just a verbal instruction, others need to see it visually or kinesthetically. 

The above tips will help as a reminder when behaviors are increasing and you’re feeling overwhelmed. Hopefully this creates a balance in your parenting as well as providing harmony in your house.

 

Power Of Choice

Have you ever wondered what it is like to have Autism? As a neurotypical person or a person without a diagnosis, it is difficult to understand or identify how it feels to be a person with a diagnosis. While researchers continue to try to gain information on how it may feel to have Autism, there’s no easy way to gain that information. Further, it may be hard to simply ask those with Autism to describe what it’s like because they can’t quantify it. While as parents, educators, advocates ,and therapists we may never understand what it’s like for those diagnosed with Autism, there are some ways to ensure that we foster their input into their daily lives. 

Empowerment:

Are they able to thrive as they are? What are some ways to allow them to feel that they are a part of their day? Some ideas are giving them choices, providing them with schedules that they can give input to, picking an extracurricular activity, etc. 

Are choices incorporated into their day? For instance, a nonvocal child may not be able to verbally say what they want for breakfast, but if you place two items in front of them they may direct a part of their body towards one option. 

Are they allowed to be involved in their day/therapy/education? While a four year old may not be able to sit in an IEP meeting or understand the complexities of it, he can tell you what he likes and dislikes. If he’s super interested in trains, incorporate trains in whatever way is possible. 

Are they listened to/heard? Even non-vocal people communicate with some type of noise/cue to say no. If they say no, are their requests honored when appropriate? Sometimes it may be impossible to honor the request but if they’re looking for space or a break, are they given that when possible? 

In the typical hustle and bustle of the day this may be overwhelming or daunting. Currently though, there is an opportunity where many are staying at home often and routines are simplified. This may take time and practice, particularly during this time of change, but it could be the perfect time to take a step back and start new habits. A daily routine is essential, so it’s important to have those with Autism engaged in creating their schedule as much as possible. Eventually they will be in the driver’s seat of their daily life so let’s help them to make that transition as easy as possible. It may be scary to initially give them a small choice, and it may feel like they are starting out on the road for the first time, but looking back later and seeing them flourish will be worth it. 

How to Help Teach Children About Covid-19

This is a stressful and confusing time for all of us. There’s a lot of unknowns in our minds of how long our lives will temporarily be in the status they are in, with us all trying to socially distance and stay at home as much as possible. This is especially confusing for children who do not fully understand the impact of Covid-19. Asking children to wear a mask, wash their hands frequently,  no longer see friends or extended family, and having their schools closed brings about a lot of emotions and uncertainty. It can also be confusing to see others  wearing masks in the community, particularly in places where they did not previously see them such as the grocery store and gas station. 

Here are a few resources and ways that may aid in teaching about Covid-19:

  1. Tara Tuchel, a Speech Language Pathologist, has several free resource aids and social stories including stories on: what is Covid-19, Schools staying closed, distance learning, wearing a mask, and seeing other people wear masks. She even has a wearing a mask coloring book for children! These stories are made with simple concepts that can help your children become more familiarized with everything happening in their community. 
  2. Amanda Mc Guiness, an Autism Educator, has a free printable calendar with a visual “no school” icon for non-vocal children or a child that may need a visual calendar to remind them daily that school is closed for the day. 
  3. AutismSpeaks collaborated with Autism Certification Center to provide free access until June 1st  to video learning and resources to the Autism community. 
  4. The National Autism Association has several free resources including a hand washing tutorial, several Covid-19 social stories and resources for caretakers as well. 

While there isn’t much that can be done at this time to change our home status, these tools can aid in providing helpful conversation and visuals to reduce stress and anxiety. At the end of this, the hope is that we can look back on this time and remember fondly being able to stay at home and keep our health as a priority. Continue to take care of your children and those with Autism and tell them that all of their therapists and BCBA’s miss them and hope to see them soon!

How To Promote Autism Awareness From Home

Did you know this April launches the 50th anniversary of Autism Awareness month? The National Autism Society created Autism Awareness month in 1970 to increase knowledge of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and improve quality of life for those living with the disorder. While a lot has changed since 1970, the need to promote awareness of ASD still remains essential. Typically each year there are large events in several communities nationwide that promote Autism Awareness. Due to the unprecedented current situation with Covid-19, many may be wondering how we can promote Autism Awareness in our communities with the lack of social gatherings.

  1. Share digital resources with those in your community: work, classroom, clubs/organizations
    The National Autism Society and Autism Speaks have impactful online infographics and resources. Get creative outside!
  2. Have your family join you in chalking your driveway or sidewalks with Autism Awareness Month and the hashtag #celebratedifferences
  3. Share with families near your home by putting a little spring activity in their yard! Use spring items such as colored plastic eggs filled with treats and Happy Autism Awareness Month/ #celebratedifferences paper slips inside.
  4. Take a pledge by spreading the word & fundraising online through different social media platforms.
  5. Send snail mail to family and friends expressing the importance of Autism Awareness month and give them this information on how they can help

In times like this, it’s more important than ever to know that you are not alone in the fight to advocate and include those with Autism. While it can seem daunting to try to explain what Autism to people who may have never come into contact with the disorder before, small steps taken each day unites us in helping those with the disorder to be understood and makes our world a little bit brighter.

Three Ways to Help Your Child Communicate

A hot topic with families generally is how to help their family member with Autism communicate. Whether a child uses an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device, sign language, or their voice, communication is an area that families and experts see as essential for developmental growth. In Applied Behavior Analysis, there are several ways in which communication is incorporated into a therapy session. 

The founder of ABA, B.F. Skinner broke up communication into different categories:

  • Mands- Any type of vocal communication that indicates something desired (i.e. Joel asks his mom for a cookie on his AAC device) 
  • Echoics- Vocal imitation (i.e. Scarlett’s mom says “Popcorn” and Scarlett repeats by signing “Popcorn”)
  • Tacts- labeling an item (i.e. Brody sees his dog playing outside. He says, “dog”.
  • Intraverbals- a conversation (this can be a statement such as filling in the rest of a song. For instance, Abigail’s Grandma says “Ready, set…” and Abigail finishes the statement, “Go!”)

These four types of communication are incorporated into each child’s session at some point based on their assessment level when they start services. Beyond a session though, family members can increase communication opportunities at home or in the community by doing three things: 

  1. Provide opportunities for the person to communicate. If you’re providing dinner for them, place the plate on the table but intentionally forget the fork so they have the chance to request for it. This increases the amount of times the person has to communicate. That old saying, “practice makes perfect” is actually really valid in the communication world. Give them several moments each day to practice their communication and they will learn and grow from
  2. Participate in vocal play. Even before words exist for a child, babbling and hearing sounds is beneficial. When playing with a child and their train set, make the train sounds. This will give them the option to hear and imitate the sounds that you make. This can also be used if the person babbles at all. For instance, Colt continues to say “eeeee” so his therapist says “eeee” as well. 
  3. Provide opportunities for functional communication training. This is something that can be crucial even further into a child’s development. Provide communication when they are visibly doing something to gain access or avoid something. For instance, John is watching a movie with his parents. He becomes afraid of something on the screen and hides under a blanket. His mom provides some communication for him: “John, I think you’re scared. Do you want to keep watching the movie or do you need a break?” John then requests the break. This can also be utilized for those who are non-vocal or are unable to request a break. For instance, when Addie is approached by a horse at the farm she runs away. Her mom prompts her to use her device and say “no thank you” then gives her different options of animals at the farm they can look at. Addie chooses the goats. 

Communication is a vital skill for development along with being beneficial to express an individual’s needs, wants and thoughts in the home. By utilizing these three tips, communication can flourish in one’s day to day routine even when therapy is unavailable. 

References: 

Cooper, J. Heron, T., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed). New Jersey: Pearson Education.

Shane, Joseph, “Increasing Vocal Behavior and Establishing Echoic Stimulus Control in Children with Autism” (2016). Dissertations. 1400. https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/dissertations/1400

Sundberg, Mark L. (2008) VB-MAPP Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program :a language and social skills assessment program for children with autism or other developmental disabilities : guide Concord, CA : AVB Press