Today was J’s first day back to school and although I always hope for the best I always prepare for the worst. J has a hard time with transitions which can be pretty typical for kids on the spectrum. Usually, I can prepare him with schedules and notes on the calendar, but when it’s something he dreads like school, the prep just brings on anxiety and prolongs the behavior. He started last night.
As soon as I said to him “J, it’s time to get ready for bed”, his happy mood quickly became the foreboding rumble of thunder that is heard before a thunder-storm. To the untrained ear, they would just be sounds and grunts but I know what those exact sounds mean, “I am not happy and you are about to incur my wrath!” I quickly felt my blood pressure elevate and my heartbeat quicken, “fight or flight” kicks in on a hair-trigger, but I took several deep breaths and did my best to remain calm, “if I lose it so does he”, I thought to myself. J began imitating me inhaling and exhaling, which made me laugh and reminded me how much I love this kid and how special he can be.
With my mind a little clearer I focused on redirection, reminding J of his “stars”. Since J has such a difficult time going places or doing things that challenge his sensory comfort zone, I came up with a Positive Reinforcement Plan(PRP). He wasn’t a big fan of stickers until I found these gold stars. They meant something to him and he wanted to earn them, especially since earning a specified amount resulted in a prize of his choosing. This method of positive reinforcement was a huge help when J returned to school after home instruction and to this day it still keeps him motivated. It also keeps his aggressive behavior down. He knows if he acts out at school or on the bus it will affect his star for the day and take him longer to earn his prize.
I call this method “The Star Student”. Like the five points of a star there are five characteristics of a “Star Student” and to earn a star sticker, J has to embody them in some way, breaking a rule like yelling or hitting will make him lose his star for the day. Although he gave me a hard time this morning and complained up until the moment he got on the bus, he redeemed himself by being a “Star Student”, so he received his star for the day.
The behavior I saw last night and this morning had to have consequences or else I’m sure I’d see them again. So his TV time before bedtime was lessened, and it seemed that he understood why. I gently explained to him that he can not yell and scream at mommy in the morning, and if he does a better job tomorrow he will get his normal TV time back tomorrow night. He took his punishment like a big boy and went right to sleep, ahhh, is there anything better than when you get them down on time.
Here’s what I do to keep Jace motivated with his PRP:
- Identify an inexpensive but highly sought after motivator for your child, this shouldn’t cost much more than $5-$20, depending on your child’s level of maturity and your budget. The cheaper the better as this will be a weekly prize. You can also do a daily reward that is either an activity or something
- small as well to promote daily good behavior. For example- J works daily for TV time and a cup of ice cream when he gets home from school
Autism or not boys need structure and discipline, a boy with Autism needs it even more. It’s hard to be a drill sergeant mom sometimes, especially when your tired and all you want to do is cuddle them up, hopefully, he’ll thank me for it someday.