Wednesday, May 13, 2009

End of School Chaos Busters

The end of the school year means that the usual routine isn't so usual. As school winds down what was the normal routine starts changing. The atmosphere starts changing at school. Kids get restless and lots of end of the year events interrupt the normal routine. For most kids this is exciting. For kids on the Autism Spectrum this is disturbing. Tasks that were difficult before now become nearly impossible.

Have you ever walked into a room that you could feel the mood of those in it before you ever knew what the mood would be? Like when you walk into a room and say "wow, you could cut the tension in here with a knife." but nobody had said a word? Autistic individuals would normally probably not be in tune with subtle changes in mood. But when there is excitement in the air and the energy of others make them more talkative, fidgety and in general buzzing around with the emotion just bubbling, this can be distracting.

Routine is key for these kids. If there is a routine, then they know what to expect. They can deal with the expected far better than the unexpected. Transition is not an easy thing, even if the change in events are expected and routine. But unexpected change can ruin a day.

The last month or so has become a huge challenge for my oldest son. For reasons not entirely known, he has been having trouble doing his journal writing in class. The task is only to draw a picture and then write 6 sentences about the picture. This shouldn't be all that big of a deal for him. He makes books all the time, even at school. Normally he only writes a sentence or two, if he is working on his own. He has been throwing tantrums and is steadfast in his refusal. When he digs in his heels there is no budging him.

I have been brainstorming solutions and some of them have worked for about a week. These days I am busting out the big guns to get him to go to school and do his work. Some times we all need a little incentive.

My son LOVES Legos. Recently we ordered some special pieces he wanted from an on line Lego buy and sell site. I have been offering him one Lego piece a day IF he gets his work done IN class with out a fight. A few months ago some of his Legos were put into permanent time out due to really bad behavior. A simple time out didn't matter to him. He knew that when the time passed he would get them back. I had to tell him he would lose some of his Legos forever, he challenged me and said he didn't believe me. Ugh, I had to follow through, I showed him that I was throwing out some of his Legos. Oh the agony of that!! It was ugly. I had hit a wall with him and I had to do something to stop the behavior. It was like a physical wound for the both of us. I saved the Legos and put them away. I have found a reason to quietly reintroduce them into his collection. (I can't let him know I didn't actually throw them away) I am showing him a few pieces at a time as the day's incentive (as if I had just ordered them). His teacher was happy about the turn around he had made and wanted to know if I was doing anything different or if we finally turned a corner.

Over the years when my son has had issues with events at school or after school, I have posted signs on the front door to remind him about them. For example, I use to pick him up one day a week from school to take him to speech therapy. Every other day he took the bus home. He got to the point where he was throwing tantrums at school because I wasn't picking him up every day. I made little picture cards with the day of the week on them. Only one day had my picture on it. All the others had a picture of the bus an that he was to take the bus home that day. Each morning I would hand him the card for that day and reminded him if it was a bus day or a mom day. It did the trick. I did the same thing when he was refusing to work with his occupational therapist after school. On the days he saw her, I would hand him a card that had her picture on it and a picture of the ball pit (his favorite activity). The card also said that if he did his work with her then he would get to play in the ball pit for the last 5 minutes. It worked. My door is metal so I just use magnets on the back of the signs if they are a long term thing. I save the adds, business cards and what nots that have magnets on the back (you know like the ones Capital One mailers use to come with). I run them through a sticker maker and put them on what ever I want to hang up.

Another LOVE of his is BROWNIES. Oh my! How he loves his brownies! This week is hard for him and he does not want to go to school anymore. I offered him a brownie in his lunch, but he had to go to school.

When I make brownies, they are gluten and dairy free. I have to say that I would eat them any day of the week. Which is why I always freeze at least half of the brownies as soon as they cool. My son would also eat the whole pan in the blink of an eye. This means that I have some brownies on hand for later when we need the extra incentive or just for an extra special treat. I love how his face lights up when I tell him I have brownies.

He is a huge chocolate lover and probably can't get enough of it. I am quite sure he would lick a fondue pot clean just to make sure he got every last drop. Well, who wouldn't? Anjeanette wouldn't but we will forgive her. Now if that fondue pot were filled with caramel then she would be guarding it with her life and she would lick it clean. ;)

The key here is that I am giving him very big reasons to overcome his issues. What this does for him is give him something to keep him focused. Something that means so much to him that he can turn his attention on a final goal. The reward has to be immediate because he can't yet maintain that focus for a long range goal. Like say a reward at the end of the year or earn a sticker every day this week and on the weekend you will get ________.

Over the years I have used this trick when he is getting overwhelmed. When he was a toddler, before I knew about his Autism, he would have meltdowns in the middle of a shopping trip. What can you do? Sometimes you have to go shopping and it can't wait till Dad comes home at the end of the day. He has to learn how to do these things with out having a meltdown in the middle of it. Back then I didn't know how important the skill I was unknowingly teaching him would be. When ever he would act out, I would pull a dum-dum (lollypop) out of my diaper bag. I would get down on his level and show him the dum-dum. Then say "D, do you want a lolly?" He would indicate that he wanted it (I can't remember now just how he let me know, because he was non-verbal back then). Before giving him the lolly, I would say "then you need to get back into control and stop crying." I would wait for him to regain control and watch as he wiped his face and took some deep breaths and slowly become calm again. When he got his lolly, he would remain happy long enough for me to pick up the pace and get my shopping done with out another tantrum. Today he no longer needs the bribe of a lolly or anything else to maintain his control in a store. Much of that is due to changes in his diet, therapy and just plain hard work.

Sometimes it is the little things that get us through our day. The same holds true for our kids. Think about what makes them tick. What really makes them happy. Turn those things into little rewards for a job well done.

The thing that Autism has taught me is to see all the little things. A job well done doesn't have to be about big events. Sometimes it is about doing something that isn't easy and getting through it or trying something new. With autism you learn that you have to break everything down in to steps. Some times the victory is that he actually picked up a vegetable, he didn't eat it but he picked it up. That is the first step in trying a new food (not taking a bite of it). Some day he will smell it. Some day he will touch it to his lips. Some day he will nibble it and maybe he will like it enough to actually eat it.


Wow, this is a long post. I didn't mean to post this much. I hope you don't mind this view into my world and my ramblings.

P.S. His little brother benefits from all of this too. He gets his own rewards for his own job well done. Usually he gets rewards for being such a big helper around the house. Yes my boys are spoiled and yes they are smothered in love as much as I can get away with. ;)

Rebecca here. Katrina, I love all these great ideas! It is always great to get a glimpse into your life and what you have to deal with. One thing I find particularly interesting is how most of this stuff can relate to all children, and not just ones with Autism or special needs! So many of these ideas would be great for me to use with my kids. I love the poster on the door...with.the.incentive! Brilliant!
Katrina again ;)
I came across my days of the week magnets and thought I would share them too. They say "Monday, Today I take the bus home from school. Mama and A are waiting for me at home." "Thursday, Today Mama and A will pick me up from school. Then I will work with Mrs. Z. When I have finished my work with her, I will get to play in the ball pit. I have lots of fun with Mrs. Z." The year before it was Wednesday that changed and it said something like this "Wednesday, Today is the best day of the week. Today Mama and A will pick me up from school." For the school bus picture, I just found an image on line. For the Thursday card, I used pictures of him with Mrs. Z (that is actually what we called her) and of him in the ball pit. For my Wednesday card the year before I had a picture of me on there. I hope this helps you out. Keep trying things out. Autism really is like a puzzle you just have to keep trying pieces till you find something that fits. You can get there it just takes a bit more work. The earlier you start the better off you will be. Ages 0-5 are said to be the toughest, I have found that to be true. Maybe because we have found a rhythm. I am at peace with the diagnosis and that makes everything else easier.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for all your kind words. You'll never know how much that means to me. Your kind words are my incentive. I don't take much time out for myself, but this blog is something that I do for myself and myself alone. Except that I am happy to be doing it with my beautiful SILS!


Marielle said...

I realy like this reward idea. my son has autisme, but he respons wel on sticker cards where he needs up to 15 stickers to get a big reward. But this lego reward idea will be so good for him to help him through the difficult last weeks of school (still 8 weeks to go here in the Netherlands) Thanks for posting this.

twinklescrapbooks said...

I really like the lego reward idea! :)Something like this is really needed at the end of the school year.

Katypie said...

I just wanted to say that I agree totally with Rebecca! These ideas/rewards not only work with children with Autism, but children without special needs as well!

I've been meaning to comment for awhile now. Thank you for my comment weeks ago when I was first starting out in Blogland, Rebecca! I really love the page you ladies have come together to create. As a teacher you've given me lots of great ideas -- and wishes for what I'd get from MY students' parents!! You sure are a thoughtful bunch! :0)

The one thing I'm still wondering about though... what area of Arizona are you (those who are) in? I lived on the west side of Phoenix (Avondale and Surprise) for 2 years and taught in Buckeye. I've since moved back to Ohio... but totally miss the AZ sunshine!!!

Sorry for the novel... thanks again for the wonderful page! :0)

Hannah said...

Thanks for this post. My son was recently diagnosed with Aspergers and even though we have been dealing with his behaviors for years, it is great to hear ideas that I know will work with my son.

RootsAndWingsCo said...

One thing I have learned is that behaviors come and go all the time.

Whenever he is learning a new skill, he regresses some place else and behaviors start up. Then after a while, the new skill or new level of maturity shines through and I finally get what all the fuss was about. Many times I don't know what the new skill is until his just happens one day. One time after such an episode, he came out of it talking in sentences, where before he would say one or two words. It was one day to the next and not a gradual progression. Kind of cool actually. Like not showing a present until it is completely done.

By the way, No worries about novel length comments. We LOVE comments around here. We are actually quite chatty when given the chance. Guess that comes from being stay-at-home-moms. ;)

I am in Tucson, AZ.

As always, thank you ladies for letting me know my post was useful!!! I love it!


Deb said...

You are a fabulous mom! I love these ideas and the glimpse into how you are dealing with the changes in your son's life because of the craziness at school.

It's also a great reminder to me, as a teacher, to keep the routines as set as possible here at the end of the year instead of just letting things happen as they will. I think all of my school kids would benefit from that. And maybe I could create an incentive for myself for following through. . . :O)

Thank you for being so open and sharing.

Kristin said...

I do similar reward system for homework, getting ready in the morning, outings, etc.

What a great post!

Also, on shopping trips, my son had to earn quarters (for good behavior). Near the exit, certain stores always have those machines (you all know the!). The little machines where you insert a quarter(s) and out comes gumballs, candies, little toys.

It was a real incentive for my son to have good behavior at the store so he could "earn" his quarters for the machines!

And boy, do I know the importance of routines! Routines are VERY important in my son's life.