June 14, 2021

A Love Letter to my Autistic Boys

A Love Letter to my Autistic Boys

I remember when a colleague, a psychiatrist no less, asked me if  loved my autistic foster boys as much as my biological children.  When I said, “absolutely!” he looked at me skeptically and said “there’s no way…it’s got to be different.”  At that moment, two things happened, I lost a little respect for this guy and I KNEW deep into my soul that I loved you both with all my heart.

It’s a love that some people struggle to understand.  Some look at us and say “Erik, what you do for those boys…you’re a saint!”  I hate that.  I’m no saint.  Don’t put what we have up on some pedestal.  It’s just farther for us to fall.  I’m just being a Dad.  A Dad loves his kids. Kids love their Dad.  It really is that simple.  Nothing saintly about it.  Others just shake their heads and wonder why I would take on the stress and craziness that can come with parenting autistic boys.  Again, they just don’t get it.  Why WOULDN’T I?  Sure, it gets crazy…but is wonderful too.  Jeremy and his belly laughs and shares his secret smile. Julian with his hugs and giggle fits.  These are the gifts that make it all worth it.

As much as people say I’ve done for you boys…you’ve done so much more for me.  Every day you teach me.  Every day you help me to grow even as I help you.  When I look upon my success both personally and professionally, you two are very much at the heart of it.  I’m the luckiest Dad ever.

 

Happy Valentines Day Jeremy and Julian.

 

Love,

Your Dad

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Want your child to listen better? Try the prompting hierarchy

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       I.            Does this sound familiar?

“Johnny, put on your shoes.”

“Put on your shoes Johnny.”

“Johnny!  Pay attention!  Put on our shoes!”

“Put on your shoes!”

“ARRRGGGHHH!!!”  (parent loses mind… Johnny is still shoeless)

If you have kids then you’ve probably had this interaction (or one like it).  Repeating the same command over and over as your child blissfully ignores you until you lose your mind.  Why does this happen?  They say that the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over expecting the same results.  So, parents MUST be crazy because we insist on repeating ourselves to our kids ad nauseum hoping they will suddenly listen to us.

Ok, so we aren’t crazy even if our kids sometimes make us look that way.  There must be a solution to though to what to do to get kids to listen when we want them to do something.  One answer is using prompts.  Prompts are assists that help someone to display a behavior we want to see. For example, demonstrating a behavior for your child and then having them copy you would be an example of a modeling prompt (you modeled the behavior).  If you make your prompts progressively more assistive, you can ultimately guarantee your child will do what you want.  More importantly, this makes sure that the child receives praise and reinforcement  from you for displaying the behaviors YOU want to see.

     II.            The different kinds of basic prompts

There are four basic kinds of prompts I like to use with my kids:

Gesture – some sort of non-verbal movement that will elicit the desired behavior. In the above shoe example, pointing the shoes could be a gesture prompt.

Verbal – a brief verbal statement meant to bring about the behavior. That’s all that was used in he above example.

Model – demonstrating the desired behavior.  In the above example, I might pick up the shoe and then put it down while saying “Like this, now you try.”

Physical – helping the child to physically do the behavior. So, hand over hand helping the child pick up his shoes and put them on.

  III.            Putting the prompts to use

Putting everything together is pretty simple.  After the child is told to do something, you wait a bit for them to process and comply.  Then, if they don’t do what you want, you give them a prompt.  Personally,  like to start with the gesture prompt as it is the least intrusive.  Wait a bit, then go to the next level of prompt (verbal) if the behavior doesn’t happen.  Keep working up the hierarchy until you get the behavior you were looking for.  As soon as the behavior occurs, make sure to deliver reinforcement in the form of praise.  With this system, you guarantee you don’t repeat yourself forever trying to get your child to listen,  Also, you guarantee that the child gets praised for doing the behavior.  Finally, you only give as much help as the child needs to do what you want.  So, you might start out having to physically assist but over time that will naturally fade to verbal, gesture and hopefully with no prompts (child does the behavior when first directed to do so).

If you wish to learn more about prompting strategies or to schedule a free consultation with me, call 484-693-0582 email erikyounglpc@verizon.net or press the schedule appointment button to the right.

©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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How to Have am Autism-Friendly Halloween

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HOW TO HAVE A HAPPY HALLOWEEN WITH YOUR AUTISTIC CHILD

If your child has autism, then you know how challenging holiday events can be.  With these events, you combine changes in routine with increased sensory stimulation and mix all that up with used-once-a-year social conventions that fly in the face of the day to day rules.  This perfect storm of “wrong” can set the stage for tantrum inducing disasters for many individuals on the spectrum. Despite this, I believe there is no reason that you and your child have to avoid special holiday events, such as Halloween.  It just takes a little planning and preparation for both of you to have a wonderful, candy-filled, spooktacular Halloween.

My Foster Child’s First Halloween

My oldest foster child has autism.  In the run-up to his first Halloween with us (when he was twelve), it quickly became apparent to us that he had never been trick or treating.  We really wanted him to go, but were concerned about how he would handle the event.  Like many autistic children, he is very ridged and does not take to change well.  At that time, he was prone to get upset and bite people when things did not go as planned or if anybody had to tell him “no.”  However, despite our concerns, Lorrie (my wife) and I felt it was important for him to have a shot at experiencing a “traditional” Halloween.

First, we had him look the through the costume store circular.  He chose a cow costume (complete with udders).   Cows are his favorite animal on the planet (why this is the case is a story for another post).  Then, Lorrie went out and found the very costume he picked out.  We then tried to explain to him over the days leading up to trick or treat night what he was going to get to do.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, but he simply did not get what we were telling him.

“OK, you are going to put on your cow costume.  Then you are going to go up to houses, say trick or treat and then you will get candy!”

“Candy Candy Candy!”  was his typical reply, followed by confusion as to why the candy was not forthcoming right that second.  ( I tell you, I’m a brilliant therapist at times…)

At long last, the night came.  We put our son into his costume and gave him a pillow case to collect his loot.  He immediately became really uncomfortable.  He did not understand what was happening. We went out into the night and started at some neighbor’s houses that knew us and our children.  The first challenge was to get him to say “trick or treat” after ringing the doorbell (but waiting for someone to answer the door)this came out more like “tickatweesh.”  (Our boy has some language…two to three word phrases but his diction is poor and he is hard to understand.)  The next challenge came after he got his candy.  He immediately tried to run home so he could eat his one piece of candy.  My attempt to stop him and go to the next house almost resulted in a tantrum, but we were able to persevere.

After about three houses, my boy gave me a look that, to this day, I will cherish.  Without saying a word, he looked me in the eye.  The look he gave me basically said “So, I go to houses in a costume.  I say tickatweesh.  They give me free candy.  GENIUS!!”  He was into it after this.  I could barely hold him back.  We avoided a couple of houses where they were doing haunted house/scary things.  I checked in every couple of houses and asked him “do you want to keep going or do you want to go home?”  As soon as he said go home, we headed back.  I didn’t push things.  Once home, my boy got to eat himself into a classic Halloween sugar coma.  It was fantastic.

The best part of the tale came the next day.  Our boy came downstairs after school and handed us his cow costume and said “tickatweesh.”  He wanted to go out again.  We tried to explain that Halloween was overhe asked us every night for the rest of the week before giving up efforts to get more free candy.  It was pretty funny.   We ended up saving and re-using that cow costume for 5 years before we had to replace it.

All in all, a successful outing for all concerned.

Tips for an Autism-Friendly Halloween Night

—   Let your child choose his costume.  Avoid costumes with full face masks, lots of makeup or glue-on accessories.  These can be uncomfortable and take the fun out of the night for your child.

 

— Remember the night is supposed to be fun.  This is not the time to push limits with your child.  All the changes in routine and possible overstimulation will be more than enough for him/her to process.

 

 

—   Start small, just go to a few trusted houses and see how things go.  Then, check in with your child frequently.  Gauge how they are holding up.  You want to be at home BEFORE they are over-stimulated.

 

— It might be a good idea to start your trick or treat route at the furthest point from your house and work your way home (as opposed to the more traditional stat at home and work your way out).  This has the benefit of having you closer to home when your child runs out of patience (as opposed to being at the furthest point from home when he was done…as happened to me one yearnot a fun walk back).

 

 

—  If you are unsure as to whether your child can handle the whole trick or treat experience, explore alternatives such as trick or treating at the mall (a more structured, better lit environment), or attending or hosting a small party where you can get treats and dress up for a little bit.

 

— Spend time before trick or treating explaining the expectations and laying out the “rules.”  Even non-verbal children have pretty good receptive language and will get the gist of what you want.  This helps by giving them some idea of what to do that will reduce the “newness” factor of the event.

 

 

—  Don’t be afraid to abort the event if your child shows signs of not being able to handle it.  There have been years where we brought a child back after a few houses because he was getting too upset and needed to calm down.  One year, one of our kids didn’t go out at all because he was just having a bad day.  It is more important to keep everyone safe and happy than to be slaves to “tradition.”  If the candy is an issue, it ALWAYS goes on sale November 1stdeals are there to be had.

 

— Avoid going to houses that do scary things like haunted houses and such.  Keep things on the low-key fun side unless you are DEAD certain your child will enjoy being scared (my kids simply don’t like that stuff).

 

 

—  Praise your child frequently throughout the event for following rules, being brave, etc.  Cheer him/her onthis stuff is new and hard to do at first.

 

—  If your child LOVES his/her costume… demote it to pajamas or weekend-wear until they get tired of it.

 

 

—  If your child is a very picky eater, buy some treats you know he/she will like and slip them into the Halloween bag.

 

I hope this information helps make your Halloween more fun. If you have other stories or tips for making Halloween more Autism-friendly, please leave a comment. Please feel free to email me aterikyounglpc@verizon.net with any questions or suggestions.

 

Remember, BREATH and DON’T PANIC!  You got this…

 

Visit me at www.erikyoungcounseling.com to find out more about myself and to schedule an appointment.

For more parenting tips, check out the SPECIAL NEEDS PARENTING SURVIVAL GUIDE  available at Amazon and all fine book retailers.

Copyright 2013 Erik Young, M.Ed. LPC

 

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I GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS: THE POWER OF THE “SOCIAL SAFETY NET”

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It’s been crazy at my house lately.  I’m talking off-the-wall chaos.  While I do need to vent a bit, that is not the purpose of this article.  Rather, the experiences of the past couple of weeks have highlighted the importance something I call the social safety net.  So, I wanted to talk both about what we have been going through at “Casa de Chaos” (my house) but also highlight how our “social safety net” allowed us to manage the chaos and deal with stress that would have overwhelmed us at any other time.

I.                   The Social Safety Net Defined

In my new book, The Special Needs Parenting Survival Guide, I discuss ways in which parents of special needs children can manage better and improve their quality of life.  One of the cornerstones of my system is the “Social Safety Net.”

To create a social safety net, parents identify, recruit, train and nurture key people who can provide needed support for them and their child.  The more key people added to the net, the more resources the family has at their disposal.  The more resources at the family’s disposal, the more stress they can manage because the stress gets dispersed throughout the net.  I recently was reminded of just how powerful this can be.

II.                 The crazy 2 weeks at my house

For those of you who don’t know my background, I have five children with special needs.  Two boys with Autism, an adult son with ADHD, a daughter with IDD and another daughter with significant health issues.  About a month ago, my daughter with the health issues had many of her conditions flare up.  We tried everything we knew might work, but to no avail.  Two weeks ago, when she was unable to keep any food down and was losing weight she was admitted to the hospital.

For any family this is a big deal, to have a child in the hospital.  However, with the significant needs of the other 4 children, there are several added degrees of difficulty.  My wife ended up staying at the hospital with my daughter and I stayed home to take care of the kids.  On top of this I had to juggle issues at work, with my practice as well as other medical and school appointments for the other kids.

The situation was terrible.  Each day we figured my daughter would be discharged, but then something else would come up and then stay would get extended.  For a week this happened and then she was discharged.  Unfortunately, after  a couple of days, her symptoms returned worse and she went back in the hospital for another week (this time to get a feeding tube put in).  More juggling of schedules and responsibilities.

With one parent out of the picture (at the hospital) we were unable to engage in our usual parenting teamwork to get things done.  Furthermore, having a parent and a child out of the home added stressors to all the other kids (based on changes in routine and worry).  Let’s face itno matter what‘s gone wronglife goes on.  The laundry needs doing, food needs cooking.  Life doesn’t stop for a crisis (no matter how much you might want it to do so).  If it were just Lorrie and myself, our resources would have been overwhelmed.  I shudder to think what might have happened.

Thankfully, I am a therapist who practices what he preaches.  For years, Lorrie and I have been building our social support network.  When everything went pear-shaped, we were able to draw on the resources of trusted friends and family to help disperse the stress and get things done.  It was still hard… terrible really, but the situation became survivable because of the support of our network.

III.              The key players and why it worked

So, here are some of the people who helped get us through this trying time:

My mom – she helped do laundry (did I mention our washer is broken at this time?  Yeah,when it rains it pours).  With 5 kids, laundry piles up quickly and without Lorrie around, I couldn’t easily get to the laundry mat.  She also was there to just talk and let me vent.  She and my step-father drove supplies or my wife to the hospital (changes of clothes, activities, etc.).  She also wrote some great letters to my daughter to help her deal with her anxiety and worry.

Michele – A good friend of the family and fellow therapist (http://www.michelepaiva.com) not only kept in touch with my daughter through texts and phone calls.  She put together several care packages.  She even gave me a chance to sit and talk, putting the worry aside, for about a half hour in the middle of a particularly bad day which was perhaps he greatest gift of all.  Her thoughtfulness and support were and are outstanding.

Angela – Our foster care social worker.  She helped deal with various scheduling and school issues.  She answered emails and diverted some of the usual BS we have to manage freeing me to focus on what I needed to do.  She came over and sat with the kids when I couldn’t get home in time from work or other obligations. She went above and beyond.

Rand – Another therapist and colleague.  He also let me vent.  He even took over therapy on some of our co-therapy casesfreeing me up to do my parenting thing without guilt.  He was a kind voice of support and reason.

Dr. Chang – Our allergy specialist.  He helped coordinate doctors within various departments to make things run a little smoother at the hospital. He didn’t have to as his specialty wasn’t really needed for what was being done.  Despite that, he stepped up and helped sort things out.

Anthony – A co-worker and friend.  He kept me in the loop with stuff at work and ran some interference as I tried to juggle parenting and work.

My son, Zak – He stepped up and helped with housework and helped keep things stable when I couldn’t be home.  He really stepped up his game and I am grateful.

My sister  — She also let me talk and vent.  When I asked her to run some stuff up to the hospital he immediately said yes. When it turned out she couldn’t do that, she sorted at the situation and arranged for my Mom to do that without involving me (other than letting me know about the change in plans).  She saved  from having to solve yet another problem and helped alleviate a little bit of stress.

These people stepped up and helpedmany without my having to ask.  Why?  Because Lorrie and I have spent time educating them as to our needs and our “reality.” We spend time nurturing and renewing connections with these people (and others) so there is not a sense of “using” them.  They are valued friends.  The work that made things work the past two weeks started years ago and will be on-going (because I am sure there are more crises coming down the pike).

To all the people in my netI am filled with gratitude for all that you do.  Your help and support is invaluable and will be returned someday.

IV.             Make connections and disperse the stress

With “neurotypical” families, the social safety net often naturally develops.  Family, friends, and other people just seem to connect and offer support.  When the family has an exceptional child, these natural supports are often ill-equipped to provide support.  They typically are inexperienced with the child’s needs (much like the new parents).  This can leave the parents isolated and without support when they need it most.

To combat this tendency towards isolation, I counsel my parents to identify their resources and actively train them to be supports.  Once identified and trained, these supports can be nurtured.  The ore people parents can train and nurture, the more help they will have when they need it.

The people with whom you connect, the deeper and sturdier your net.  The effect is when stress hits, bits and pieces of that stress can be sent out into the net for others to manage thus making the load a little lighter on the parents.  More people bring more skills and knowledge to the table allowing for the entire team to be more responsive to a wider variety of situations.

V.                Final Thoughts

If you are the parent of a special needs child and you don’t have a social safety net, then I urge you to start doing the work to create one.  Start fostering those crucial connections. This, more than anything will reduce your stress load and make life more manageable.

Be critical about the people with whom you surround yourself.  Only keep those who will build you up, help you, nurture you.  Distance yourself from users and those who bring you down.

To learn more about how to create a social safety net, check out The Special Needs Parenting Survival Guide. You can also contact me for a free consultation at 484-693-0582 or erikyounglpc@verizon.net

© Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC 2013

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New Article “The Power of Play” and Online Parent Support Group

Play therapy at work

Play therapy has become a very important element of my work with families and children.  In this article, I hope to give you parents some idea of how powerful play can be as an intervention as well as some ideas of how to utilize play with your own children.

It is Father’s Day as I write this article and I am reminded of one particular case where play therapy had a profound impact on a family.  This family had a child with severe autism.  They were unable to manage him at home and he was living at the residential treatment facility where I worked.  The child in question was very routine oriented and had an extremely restricted range of activities in which he would engage.  Basically, if he wasn’t repeatedly watching small snippets of Disney videos, he wasn’t happy.  To make matters worse, if he wasn’t happy, he tended to tantrum, hit and bite those around him.  As a result of these behaviors, not only could he not live at home but the family was challenged to even have him home for short visits.  They literally had to put the entire house on lock down to prevent their son from wandering away and at least one of them had to take time off of work to stay up all night to supervise their son.

Read more…

 

Starting on Tuesday, July 16 at 8:00 pm to 9:30 pm, I will host an online special needs parent consultation and support group on the 3rd Tuesday of every month.  As a special needs parent myself, I know how hard it is to get help and support.  It takes a lot to find time and childcare to go out to a support group.  For this reason, I’m bringing the group to you.  Through a secure video chat I will host a discussion on “How to get your child to do more of what you want and less of what you don’t want.”  This is your chance to get together with other parents and share your stories as well as learn about my system of Functional Behavior Analyses made just for parents.  These sessions are free to current clients seeing me for sessions and only $10 for all others.  Simply sign up for the sessions in the secure patient area of this website.   I look forward to seeing you then!  If you have any questions, please email, call or leave them in the comments section below.

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The Importance of Communication

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One common problem in autism and other neurological disorders is difficulties with communication.  Communication problems range from a complete inability to speak to difficulty in interpreting spoken language.  When present, communication problems should be a major focus of treatment because the developmental and behavioral consequences ignoring communication issues can be severe.

In this article published at Goodtherapy.org, I discuss the importance of communication training:

“Erik Young, MEd, LPC – Particularly among children with autism spectrum, learning to 
effectively communicate is key to improving behavioral outcomes.”

 

They also posted my article reviewing Communication Assistance technologies commonly used to facilitate communication.

Erik Young, MEd, LPC – All strategies and technologies for improving communication among 
children with autism and other special needs have their pros and cons. 
Here’s a closer look at five common ones.”

 

If you have any experience with communication training for autistic or other disabled individuals, please share your experiences in the comments below.  I would love to hear from you!

 

Peace,

Erik

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LIFE WITH JEREMY — An Adoption Story

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Preface

I know, dear readers that my articles are usually of the “How-to” variety.  This, one is going to be a bit different.  While there are certainly lessons to be learned here, they won’t be spelled out in easy step-by-step directions.  I totally understand if this is not your cup of tea.  It’s cool.  But, this is a story that I’ve been waiting almost a decade to tell.  It’s an important story to me and I hope you forgive me a little bit of self-indulgence.  I promise more “How-to” articles will be published soon.

February 8, 2013

“You do understand that if I enter this judgment, it is irrevocable? Jeremy becomes your child now and forever just as if he was born to you. ”

This is what Judge Fritch said to me and my wife during our adoption hearing.  Here’s the running commentary scrolling through my mind at this time: “Of course I understand, why wouldn’t I understand?  Wait, did he say IF?  What does he mean if??  Could he say NO?  This was supposed to be a done deal!  Why would he say no?  What will I do if he says NO?  I’ll get upset is what…if I get upset I’m going to open my mouth that’ll mean a contempt of court charge.  I’m not gonna apologize though.  No judge is keeping me from my son.  If I don’t apologize I’ll go to jail.  Can I handle jail?  For Jeremy?  I sure can.  No problem….”

Thankfully, that was just in my head, I simply looked the judge in the eye and said “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Judge Fritch entered the motion and Jeremy, who had been living as our son for almost a decade since he was 12 years old became our legally adopted adult son.

Adoption day!

Adoption day!

How it all started

Just about 11 years ago, my wife and I were looking for a little extra income to make ends meet.  As it turns out, working for a non-profit organization is not the path towards being independently wealthy and socially secure (shocking, I know).  In the course of looking for new income opportunities we started providing respite care for special needs kids form Devereux’s teaching family program…we were essentially part-time foster parents.

When my wife lost her job as a daycare teacher, the director of the teaching family program (Maria) mentioned to me that we would make great full-time special needs foster parents.  I laughed.  This was funny.  I already spent 40-60 hours a week working with autistic and intellectually disabled teens…doing this at home meant doing my job 24/7 without a break.  No way, no how, no thank you.  This attitude lasted all of 2 hours until I got home.

“Lorrie, Maria sad the funniest thing to me today.”

“What’s that?” replied my lovely wife.

“She said we should be full-time teaching parents.  Can you imagine doing that full-time?  I’d go nuts!”

My wife just sat there pensively and murmured “Hmm….”

All I could think was “Uh oh…”

Into the breach…

We didn’t take the plunge right away.  We talked about things for a while  The fact I would essentially be working without a break was a big deal and not something to be taken lightly.  However, I love my wife dearly, and it was obvious she adored being Mom to all these different kids that came to our house.  She had a knack.  Furthermore, I’d been espousing for a number of years the therapeutic benefits of a loving family to the treatment of behavior disorders.  This was my chance to put my money where my mouth was…to walk the walk.

Our first child turned out not to be a good fit for us (but her story had a good outcome).  It was with her I learned the true meaning of “attachment disorder.”  However, the second child we considered turned out to be our first and most enduring success.

His intake packet read like a horror story.  He was prone to sudden violent outbursts.  He was a biter.  He broke his sister’s arm when she was only 5 years old.  There was hardly a single positive thing in that intake packet.  However, families often accentuate the negatives when they are desperate to get their child into placement.  I used my pull as a Devereux clinician to ask his therapist about him.  I found out that, as I suspected, the info in the packet was a more than a little exaggerated.  My colleague said that Jeremy was a good kid who was very bright and would probably have a normal IQ but for the communication issues that came with his autism.  He encouraged us to go ahead and at least have him do some visits to see if he would be a good fit.

Jell-O Cheesecake and Flubber

So, we had our first dinner visit with Jeremy.  I picked him up from his group home.  His staff told me that she was working on getting him to eat more vegetables and that we should make him eat those first before giving him preferred foods.  I didn’t get any other words of wisdom.

Jeremy and I drove back to my house.  I tried making small talk with him, but as he was pretty much non-verbal at this point, it was pretty one sided.  God I was nervous.  The kid was so serious…never cracked a smile.  He just stared at me…through me…with these deep blue eyes.  Was I making a mistake?  Did I have what it takes to work with a kid like this?

Finally, we pulled into my driveway.  I escorted Jeremy cross my lawn and into the front door where my family was waiting. As Jeremy entered, my wife greeted him with a big smile and a “Hi Jeremy!”  In reply, he dashed right past her, grabbed a video off the shelf and proceeded to decipher our TV and vcr (in all of about 3 minutes…the kid was gifted!).  The movie was Flubber.  Jeremy sat himself in my big blue easy chair and happily watched Robin Williams blow cgi green goo out his pants.

For dinner, we had salad (first of course…he ate it without a problem) and hotdogs (he verbally asked for two…guess the boy could talk) and French fries.  For dessert, we had one of those no-bake jello cheesecakes.  Jeremy ate like a man on a mission.  He attacked his food with singular purpose.  It seemed to me that if I could bottle that intense concentration, we’d have a cure for ADHD. In fact, this is how Jeremy lives his life…from objective to objective…a man on a mission.

After dinner, we put in another video and enjoyed just being together, trying out the new family dynamic.  At one point, Jeremy went to use the bathroom.  No issues there, he’s pretty self-sufficient.  However, on the way back from the bathroom, he dashed into the kitchen.  I followed but a few seconds later.  There was Jeremy scarfing down half a cheesecake.  I’m serious; he devoured that half a cheesecake in about 15 seconds flat.  If I were a less ethical person, I could make a fortune betting on him at eating contests.  In any event, it was clear he fit in perfectly with our family.

Five lessons I learned from Jeremy

1. The “N” word — We learned pretty quickly that the combination of Jeremy and the word NO was problematic.  Saying that word to Jeremy was a good way to get bitten.  We very quickly learned that we needed to be very creative in how we denied Jeremy access to desired tangibles.  No was replaced with such phrases as “not right now”, “later”, “try this instead”, and “Look!  Elvis!” (that last one didn’t work so well, but it made my kids laugh).  Now, over the years, we did a lot of hard work with Jeremy.  We taught him that he could trust us.  Because he could trust us, he learned that we would give him things he wanted…eventually.  Now, we can use the “N” word.  He still doesn’t like it, but he accepts it.  He knows that we love him and that the things he needs will always be there when he needs them.  The lesson here is that trust needs to be established and maintained in order to help your loved ones change.

2.  Changing clothes is bad —   On one of our early outings, we took Jeremy to buy clothes.  He was so excited to pick out new outfits.  Lorrie, not knowing his sizes, took him to the changing rooms at the store.  Jeremy quickly put on his new clothes.  We figured out what fit.  The problem came when it was time to take OFF the new clothes and put the old clothes back on.  Jeremy had a meltdown in the store.  It was ugly.  However, Lorrie was calm.  She persevered.  The clothes were purchased.  We did not take Jeremy back clothes shopping for some time.  We had similar problems when Jeremy would try to dress himself in an inappropriate outfit (such as long sleeve shirt and jeans  in 90 degree summer weather).  We got creative in setting out his clothes.  We made sure that we stored weather inappropriate clothes so he couldn’t put them on.  We even went so far as to throw out clothes that no longer fit…Jeremy would retrieve these from the garbage when we weren’t looking.  At one point, I had to drive a favorite shirt three towns away and dispose of it in a dumpster because Jeremy kept putting it back in his dresser.  Eventually, we taught Jeremy to be a little more flexible.  We praised him for dressing so handsome.  We rewarded him with praise and new cool clothes when he could tolerate changing clothes.  It took years.  The lesson?  Be patient.  Change comes slow to the autistic child, but it can happen.  Don’t try to change too much too fast though.

3.  I put Ketchup on my Ketchup – Jeremy LOVES ketchup.  He puts it on just about everything.  .  At first we tried complicated reinforcement and teaching programs to manage the flow of ketchup in the house as the level of ketchup abuse seemed problematic to us.  At one point, despite our best efforts, we were going through a large bottle of ketchup a week! It turns out, Jeremy was sneaking down to the kitchen in the middle of the night and drinking straight from the bottle.  We gave up on our fancy plans and just let Jeremy have his ketchup.  If he wanted it that bad, why stand in the way?  The only thing we did was not buy new ketchup until it was time to do the shopping.  Eventually, ketchup consumption returned to more normal levels in our house.  The lesson?  Choose your battles.  Just because you think it’s weird doesn’t make it a problem.

4. Macy’s, elevator, bathroom —  Recently, Jeremy was writing one of his many lists.  When he writes a list, he’s usually asking for something.  This list was unique.  It said, Erik, Rhi Rhi (my daughter) Macy’s, elevator, I want bathroom please.  He wrote that list daily for a couple of weeks,  For whatever reason, he wanted me and my daughter to accompany him to the mall.  One evening, I didn’t have a lot scheduled, so we piled in the car and went to Macy’s  Jeremy was clearly excited.  Once at the mall, we let Jeremy take the lead, curious to see what he wanted to get.  He did his little speedwalk through the store, didn’t stop to buy or even look at anything.  Once through the store he made a beeline for the elevators which we rode to the first floor.  From there we walked around the outside of Macys until we came to the mall bathrooms.  There Jeremy went in, peed, then washed his hands.  Once done he smiled at me and declared himself finished. He was happy and content.  I must confess I didn’t get it, but I was happy that he was happy.  We went home and the lists stopped. The lesson?  Don’t ignore the little things.  Take time to enjoy the little pleasures in life.  Don’t question them either.  Happiness is where you find it.

5.  Family is more about DNA – Here is a picture of me and Jeremy.

20130211_221957

This says everything about our relationship.  We have a special bond.  Mere words can’t adequately describe it.  I would take a bullet for Jeremy.  One of my colleagues, after recently becoming a new Dad, asked me about my children as we were waiting for a meeting to start.  I described all my kids, biological and foster.  He asked me if it was different with the foster kids.  I replied that of course it was different; raising special needs kids is different almost by definition. He said, “no, the love. You love them less right?”  I said, “No, of course not…I love all my kids equally.”  I could tell by the look in his eyes that he didn’t believe me.  He didn’t get it.  I wish I had that picture on me then.    The lesson?  Family is about who you love.  Not who conceived you.  To be successful as a (foster) parent, you have to accept the children as your own, and treat them the same as you treat your own.

In closing, I owe Jeremy a huge debt of gratitude.  By sharing his life with me, by letting me be his Dad, he taught me to be a better parent and a better therapist.  When I talk about bringing together clinical knowledge with practical experience, I’m talking about life with my son, Jeremy.

Thank you son…you are the best!

I want to hear about your stories of life with your special kids.  Please share them in the comments below.

I welcome your questions.  I can be reached at erikyounglpc@verizon.net

Find out more about me and schedule a complimentary session at www.erikyoungtherapy.com

Copyright 2013 Erik Young, M.Ed.,LPC

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ANTECEDENT MODIFICATIONS (in “Normalspeak”, changing what happens before the behavior)

 

doctor cartoon

Did you ever hear the old joke about the guy that goes to the doctor?  He says to the doctor, “Doc, it hurts my arm every time I do this,” (as he raises his arm).  The doctor, looking thoughtful, says, “Well, don’t do that!”  I’ll bet you’re wondering, “What does an old vaudeville routine have to do with behavior modification?”   Simple!  By avoiding or changing the THINGS THAT TRIGGER behaviors, we can better manage them.

ABC’s

Behaviorists describe behaviors in three parts labeled “the ABC’s”:

  1. 1.     Antecedent,
  2. 2.     Behavior,
  3. 3.     Consequence.

Antecedent behavior consequenceIn the previous articles, you learned about the Behavior (What is the function?) and you learned about consequence (reinforcement).   This article will focus on antecedents...the things that happen before the behavior.

For practical purposes we are concerned about two things that happen before a behavior:

  1. 1.     Triggers  &
  2. 2.     Setting events.

Triggers are the things that consistently cause the behavior to happen.  For example, if someone jumps out and startles you, you jump.  Analyzing the triggers allows us to answer the question: “What is the function of the behavior?”.  It also allows us to predict when a behavior is going to happen .

Setting Events are situations and environments where the behavior is more likely to occur.  Example: I am not much of a morning person.  To get through the morning, I rely on set routines because my brain is not typically fully engaged when I first wake up.  Change my routine even a little bit and I am more likely to forget things, become grumpy, etc.

What do we do with this information?

At the very least , if you understand the triggers and setting events of behaviors…you can use that knowledge to  eliminate the behaviors by:   1) removing triggers and/or 2) avoiding setting events .  Conversely, you can elicit  desired behaviors by:  1) creating setting events and/or 2)  putting triggers into the environment .

 

Try this to reduce “stop” behaviors:

  • Write down all the possible setting events and triggers of the behavior.  (You should have a good idea about this from when you were figuring out the function of the behavior).

 

  • Now, for EACH event and trigger, ask yourself,  “Can I make this go away?”

 

  •  If the answer is yes, then take steps to eliminate the stressor.
  • If the answer is “no”, then ask yourself “Can I reduce this or make it happen less often?”
    •  If that answer is yes, take steps to make the stressor less prevalent in your life.
    • If that answer is “no”, then ask yourself, “What do I have to do to live with this?”

v  The answer to that question will lead to a CONCRETE PLAN you can follow.  Simple…but not easy. Most good thing in life are like this.

Try this out and let me know how it’s working for you.  Above all, DON’T PANIC.  Breathe.  You’ve got this.

I welcome your questions.   I can be reached at erikyounglpc@verizon.net

Find out more about me and schedule a complimentary session at www.erikyoungtherapy.com

Copyright 2013 Erik Young, M.Ed.,LPC

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