Neither of these is earth-shattering, but they are small steps to (I hope) understanding how to better help Charlie learn to his fullest potential. Charlie has been doing so well these days---better than ever, really, at home, at school, everywhere---and I hope that I can keep learning to do the right things to help him.
Thing #1 has to do with behavior and, specifically, with Charlie's toughest behavior, head-banging. Behavior, while not exactly a "fighting word"---a word evoking heated argument and controversy like "mercury" or "prenatal genetic testing "---does evoke a strong response: It is understandable why one might object to one's child being described as nothing more than "a bunch of behaviors" and for parents to recoil at Skinnerian terminology like "operant conditioning," "discriminative stimulus," and "noncontingent reinforcement."
And yet---I received an email from another parent awhile ago asking me "how did you work on Charlie's SIB's without using a helmet or restraining?"
My short answer: ABA. My longer answer: Teaching Charlie "replacement behaviors," which is a codeword for reading, solid play skills, asking for "help" and for attention. And us (Jim and I, teachers, therapists) all learning to read the signs when Charlie is agitated---his face becomes blankly unresponsive, his voice tone changes to low or high, moving his arms in a certain way---and then upping demands on him, while clearly indicating why he is doing those demands.
For instance: Charlie hopped off the school bus at 1.10pm and paced a bit in the front yard, heat wave heat and all. He plopped himself in a chair and just sat, then asked to see the photos on my computer. Meanwhile, Grandpa was taking the elevator chair down and getting into the white car to go visit Grandma in the rehab hospital and Jim was helping him. I had told Charlie we had to go out to run errands before his ABA therapist came but Charlie zoomed out into the black car soon as he saw Grandpa heading out. Jim and I summoned Charlie back inside----in the past, once Charlie is in the car, we have to go without his turning back, or A Behavior results.
Today, after getting Charlie inside, I immediately pulled out a new dinosaur puzzle, which Charlie speedily put together. He was clearly agitated from the haunted glint of his eyes and called "puzzle piece! puzzle, puzzle, puzzle piece!" at first. But, while he did the puzzle faster than usual (and it was a puzzle he had never done before), the frazzled look slid from Charlie's face. I could see that, by answering his potential tantrum---and SIB, perhaps---by asking him to do something cognitive and challenging, Charlie was able to channel his worried energy into thinking and problem-solving, if you will. Instead of his agitation resulting in me being "easy" on him and letting him go off to do whatever, I gave him a clearly structured task and Charlie got over his anxiety, with no tantrum or "behavior" ensuing (he even cleaned up without my asking). The day passed nicely. Charlie listened seriously to my reminder of "not getting fries at the pool" and swam better than ever, bobbing up and down in the water over his head and blowing bubbles before swimming on his back.
Thing #2 I learned is that, give Charlie a larger amount of food---a big homemade spring roll----and he throws it, but not a smaller one.
When this happened at dinner tonight I followed the lead of Charlie's teacher and gave him what I hoped might be the appropriate language----"I don't want spring roll"---I did not make a big deal of it. The floor was cleaned up, Charlie finished his dinner and took a fast shower and was waiting for Jim to come home and crawl into bed, very tired.
Maybe it's really three Things that I learned today--Thing #3 being "don't make a big deal out of it." Note what happened, of course, but there's no need for a ruckus.
It's Autismland and there's a lot more I have to learn.