Originally posted in a note on Facebook - Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 7:23am
Yesterday my brother came over to help me out - this was his day two in his help crusade and I was grateful to have his assistance. Winnie had gone to preschool and Maggie had gone to her therapy - when I picked them both up, I could tell they were a little tired. We went to my Mom's house and I let the girls run around to blow of some steam. They ate sandwiches and then it was time to go.
Maggie did her normal behavior where she didn't want to go and basically had me chase her around the yard, then put her in her car seat while she's screaming, crying and doing her best to land a right hook or a good boot to the face.
When we got home, there was a small hiccup when trying to get the girls inside, but eventually we got in with very little issue. Once inside, I asked Winnie to take her coat and boots off, to which she started to whine. So, I reduced the command to one thing at a time - incase she was feeling overwhelmed as is often the case. "Winnie, Boots off please" - Small phrases as I was taught. Winnie replied with "No, I don't wanna take boots off". She then proceeded to flop around and whine some more. I walked to the kitchen and made some coffee.
My brother, not knowing the function of this behavior, tried to do what any normal parent would do - convince her to take off her boots. "Oh, come on Winnie, its easy and you want to make Mom happy, lets just take off our boots..."
While making coffee, I looked at Winnie once and said "Winnie, boots". She whined and cried, but took her boots off. She then asked me for some chicken nuggets. I said that she could have some if she put away a particular toy. Of course, she didn't want to put it away.
Again my brother tried to help out by attempting to convince Winnie that it was no big deal to put the toy away.
The poor man had no idea what he was getting himself into. Winnie then started to cry, then throw things, then scream and become inconsolable. What started out as a behavior to escape the task I was asking of her, quickly turned into a way to gain attention.
As I heard my brother in the hallway with a very worked up Winnie, I could hear his bewilderment in his tone as he begged and pleaded with Winnie - Anything to get her to stop crying as he didn't understand what was wrong or how to help her. I remember this feeling of helplessness.
As he was getting his very first crash course in what can happen any given moment of any given day in our lives, I wrote quickly on a large peice of paper I had posted to the fridge, preparing for when I would see his flushed, scared and frantic face come around the corner of the kitchen for my help.
What was I writing? The 4 reasons an Autistic child (or any child really) has "a behavior" - not necessarily a good behavior, not a bad one - anything can be one.
Those reasons? Well, lets take a S.E.A.T :)
S - Sensory - They can be doing a behavior because they like how it feels or makes them feel (flapping their hands, spinning around in circles, hopping up and down etc).
E - Escape - They don't want to do whatever you asked them to do - their behavior is to make it so they don't have to do it.
A - Attention - Their behavior is so you'll pay attention to them.
T - Tangible - They want something from you.
Tangible can sometimes be a hard one and my brother didn't quite understand it - so I gave him this example - If Maggie throws her cup and you pick it up and ask her "Oh, you want some juice?" then give her some juice, she will learn that when she wants juice, she can throw her cup and you'll get it. Every time she wants juice, she'll throw her cup.
So as my brother stood in my kitchen, I taught him the fundamentals of behavior - with Winnie behind us screaming and throwing things at me - with me calmly ignoring the bits of paper and small toys that were hitting my back.
"So you're just gonna ignore her doing that?"
"Because the function of this behavior started out as 'Escape from what I asked her to do' and is now 'I want your attention'. But Winnie knows this is not an appropriate way to get my attention..."
"Well what do I do if I don't know which one she's going for?" he asked, looking a bit nervous, but calmer.
"Oh that's easy!" I smiled, "If you don't know what to do, just ignore it until we figure it out." He nodded his understanding, looking like he was feeling a bit better even though Winnie was still screaming her lungs out behind me and throwing the odd toy.
We both calmly walked to the living room and he nervously sat down as he waited for my lead. Winnie quieted down almost immediately when we left the room and it became obvious that Uncle Pete had been schooled now and would not be giving her the attention she was seeking.
A very short while later, Winnie was calm and "stimming" a bit - doing a movement that provides her comfort - like when a child sucks their thumb. This is like a neon light for an autistic parent to let them know that their child is overwhelmed (Which really, at this point I didn't need!). Pete was calmer too, although looking like he'd just discovered something huge. I smiled to myself, happy in the knowledge that I'd helped my kids - and I'd helped my brother too - and spread the awareness.