Autism Program Bonus Lesson #9

Bonus Lesson #9 - Prevention and planning


Click here to access the audio of this lesson

Transcript of Bonus Lesson #9 Below:

In next week’s video and lessons I’m going to be talking about Therapeutic Crisis Intervention which are strategies to help you to deal with majorly problematic behaviours like meltdowns and aggressive behaviours in children.

Before we spend time doing that, I feel it’s super important that we focus on prevention strategies, so you minimise even having to deal with a crisis in the first place.

When you are at the ‘Choices’ Step of the Mind TRACK to Happiness Process you are looking for the options, solutions and choices you have for moving towards your aim.

In this lesson I will be giving you a checklist of 11 ways you can implement prevention strategies into your child’s life.

See how many of these you already put in place and which ones you probably need to put in place more often.

And keep in mind, this is not an exhaustive list of prevention strategies. Each child will be different, however if you’re putting all or most of these in place, chances are, you’re going to see major changes in your child’s behaviour and the amount of times you’re facing severe behaviour will significantly reduce.


#1 – Understand the human behind the behaviour.

We have spent quite a bit of time on this program talking about the thinking that underlies emotions.

Thinking leads to feeling and feeling leads to behaviours.

We need to keep working to understand the function of a child’s behaviour. What is your child wanting or needing? What skills are they learning? What are you needing to teach them in this moment? When you are seeing their behaviour as learning behaviour not defiant or naughty behaviour, it makes a difference to how you feel about their behaviour and how you approach it.

Keep asking, ‘What must my child be thinking to be feeling this way? What are they trying to gain or avoid by behaving this way? How is my child trying to pursue pleasure or avoid pain right now?’

When you make sense of their behaviour from a human survival point of view, not just a logical, moral point of view, it will help you realise what they need to learn.


#2 – Create rules, rituals & routines

Anxiety is a common theme in autism.

Anxiety is about control and prevent. A person is feeling anxious because they are trying to control life to go a certain way and prevent things from going wrong.

For someone who is anxious, being able to predict how life will unfold will be a godsend.

Think about what your child’s life is like from their point of view. There are so many unpredictable situations. There are so many people talking fast, doing things that are confusing, and expecting them to behave in ways they don’t understand.

Then there is the unpredictability of their environment that they need to contend with – either trying to avoid sensory over stimulation or craving sensory stimulation in order to be able to cope with everyday life.

But put some predictability in their life, such as routines and rituals, help them to know what’s next and what their experiences will look like, and this becomes their safe haven.

Think of their rigid thinking as their survival strategy in an unpredictable world. They need it.

Sure, you want to help them to learn how to be a little bit flexible because the reality is that life doesn’t always go to plan and you want to help them to be able to cope with that, however routines, rituals and rules can be a huge relief for your child and enable them to relax more often.

Just be sure to include them in the creation of these rules, rituals and routines too, so they feel they have an element of control in what’s happening, especially when you’re working with older children.

Use visuals to help them see what is next. Use timers to help them keep track of how much time things take and when they are going to transition to the next thing.

Be clear about what experiences will look like and where the end of the task is and keep things as simple and clear as possible.

This is especially good with children that have PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance) who experience high anxiety and avoid doing tasks in an attempt to control their anxiety.

You want to reduce the amount of demands that you are making. Having a routine or a schedule that is organised with your child ahead of time, can limit too many unpredictable demands or transitions that could spark anxiety in your child and then trigger defiance.


#3 - Learn how to say no without saying no.

Researchers have found that the average toddler hears the word ‘no’ up to 400 times a day.

Holy Cow! That’s absurd.

If repetition is the mother of learning, then what is this teaching them when they constantly hear this word?

And if this is the case for toddlers, how many times has your child heard the word ‘no’ by the time they are teenagers?!

Now throw in a child who has ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder) or PDA and you could be asking for trouble if you’re saying no that many times a day.

So, we need to get creative with how to say no.

Here are some examples.

  • Use the First, Then Strategy
    Child: “Mum can I have some chocolate?”
    Mum: “Sure you can. We just need to have some dinner first and then that chocolate is all yours!”

  • Give choices – rather than say no, give them some alternative choices that are just as appealing or more appealing than the request they are making.

  • Give alternative solutions
    Child: “I want to go to the park.”
    Parent: “But if we got to the park, we won’t have time to have dinner and then we’ll be starving! Why don’t we go home first, have dinner and then you and I can play that board game you love so much.”

  • Acknowledge and redirect the conversation
    Child: “Dad, I want to play on my xbox.”
    Dad: “I know. You’ll get back to playing it real soon. What was the name of that game you play again? What’s the idea of that game anyway? What do you do? I reckon I would be terrible at that game. What do you think?”

  • Focus on what you want them to do instead of what you don’t want them to do.

    Which is the better directive?

    Don’t think of a pink elephant.
    What are you doing right now?
    Probably thinking about the words ‘pink elephant’ or visualising one.
    Think of a blue elephant instead.

    If I wanted you to think of a blue elephant, why not just say that? It’s much clearer.

    When you want your child to change their behaviour, give a better directive.

    Avoiding saying no isn’t just literally avoiding saying no.

    It can be those times you tell a child ‘don’t’.

    “Don’t draw on the wall. Don’t hit your sibling. Don’t speak like that. Don’t behave like that. Stop messing up your room. Don’t annoy the dog. Stop being silly.” 
    Sound familiar?

    Take notice of how many times a day you tell your child ‘don’t do something’ or focus on a negative and see if you can flip it into a clear directive that is asked of in a polite way.

    “Be gentle with the dog please.”
    “Remember to speak politely to me please.”
    “Put that toy back when you’re finished with it please.”
    “Crayons are for paper. Write on the paper please.”

    Get your child focussed on what you’re wanting them to do in a way that is appealing to them. Remember that we are all governed by the agenda to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. Use this to help your child to want to co-operate with what is wanted.


#4 – Know their baseline behaviour and what their triggers are

Part of diarising your child’s behaviour is also about getting to know their triggers.

Every child will have baseline behaviours. These are the behaviours that may be typical for your child when they are in a calm state.

For example, it may be normal for your child to be slightly agitated. They may stay in that state for the majority of the time, but you know it doesn’t lead to a meltdown or aggression. This is their norm.

However, when you see them start to pace, or twitch or say certain words, you know that you’re heading in the direction of more serious behaviours.

This is something that we will be looking at in more detail next week, but for now, see if you can identify what your child’s baseline behaviour is.

What is typical behaviour for your child? What is their normal untriggered temperament? How do they behaviour when they are not triggered?

While you may want to work on improving your child’s baseline behaviours, at first you just want to become familiar with what is normal for your child so you can be aware of when you need to be hyper vigilant about preventing a meltdown or serious behaviours, and when they are just being themselves, untriggered and doing life the way they do life.


#5 – Take advantage of teachable moments

Remember, when you’re teaching your child to improve their behaviour or learn new skills, most of the time you’re going to be teaching them out of context first when they are in a calm state and then transferring those skills into a real-time situation.

When a child is in survival mode, they are not learning, so you’re not going to teach them calming strategies for the first time when they are already in a heightened state. They can’t receive the information you’re giving them.

You have to look for those teachable moments before your child is triggered or after your child has calmed down from being triggered.

The document I gave you with this week’s video, that gives you 20 pages of exercises you can use to help your child learn the reality thinking upgrades. These are perfect examples of finding teachable moments.

If you can integrate reality thinking upgrade language into your daily life and look for those teachable moments to drop some gold nuggets of reality based thinking into their life, the repetition of doing that eventually becomes their internal talk.

This will be the same for behaviour. If you’re teaching them to be gentle. Don’t just apply that to the dog. Show them what gentle is in many out of context conversations. Help them get really familiar with the concept of gentle and how many different ways we can be gentle in life.

That way when they start being rough with the dog, they have many examples of what gentle means and know exactly what they need to do when you say, ‘Be gentle with the dog.” It’s not new to him.

This goes for anything new that you’re trying to teach a child.


#6 – Keep your child occupied and interested in life

Do you find that often when your child is occupied in something that they are interested in, the problematic behaviour decreases?

Find opportunities for your child to have fun, learn a new interest, improve on their abilities and do something they will enjoy.

Give them something to do that soothes and calms them. That way they are not so agitated and taking it out on other people,or having that spiral into other behaviours.

They also don’t have so much time to think about those anxious thoughts too.

#7 – Help your child to find better ways to get the same result.

Think about the problematic behaviour you are wanting to change in your child.

What is it they are trying to achieve? What is the pursuit of pleasure or avoidance of pain concept – ie the what’s in it for me factor?

How can you help your child to find a better way to get what they are wanting or achieve the same result?

For example, If your child is trying to make themselves feel better by putting other people down, find ways to help them to feel better about themselves. If your child is bored and is annoying other people to amuse himself, find other ways for him to amuse himself.

If your child is avoiding a painful task, how can you make the task more fun, easier to do or more motivating to endure the pain to get to the pleasure.

Understanding ‘why’ your child does what they do is again going to be key in helping them to find other ways to fulfil their needs or desires in a much less problematic way.


#8– Take a gradient approach

Remember to break down the goals you have for your child into do-able steps that helps the child to succeed.

Don’t expect them to just dive right in and nail that new behaviour.

They might be able to, especially if they already have the skill, they just aren’t using it and the right reinforcer will help them to comply.

However, if they have a bad habit of behaviour that you are working to undo, or they are learning an entirely new skill, you need to take a gradient approach.

Think of the first step they could take that moves them in the direction of the end goal.

Revisit the information from this week’s video on the steps to shaping to help you to take a gradient approach to teaching new behaviours.


#9 – Pick your battles

Your child’s autism means letting go of all preconceived ideas you had about parenting. You need to be flexible about your expectations.

You need to take into consideration how your child’s brain thinks and the reality that their brain is not making connections as fast or in the same way a neurotypical brain does, thus their behaviours will not be like a neurotypical child’s either.

That’s the reality a parent has to accept.

There will be times where you don’t like that reality and that’s okay. We don’t always have to like our reality, but we do need to be able to accept that reality so we can work with it.

Just like we may not like the reality that we have to pay bills or taxes out of our hard-earned dollars, we work around it, don’t we?

This is going to be the same with your child too.

We need to work around their autism.

Find out how your child ticks.

Find ways that help them understand things in the way that they understand things.

Find solutions that work with your child’s strengths and builds on skills and knowledge they already have.

Be clear about the behaviours you are working on and focus on moving them in the direction of change as a gradient approach and not try to pick all your battles at the same time.

Ask yourself some of these questions before you go into bat for something you know is going to be a fight:

  • Does my child need to be exposed to this particular demand right now?
  • Can I let this go today and work on this another day?
  • Is it really that important in the grand scheme of things?
  • Is this something I really need to teach my child right now?

Be mindful of your own rigidity. Is it them that needs to change and be more flexible, or is it you?

#10 – Plan ahead

If you know that certain situations trigger your child, try to plan ahead so that those triggering situations can be prevented.

For example, if you know you are going to be in a noisy environment that triggers your child, what can you do to help them manage that environment better?

If you know that your child gets hangry (hungry angry), always keep some treats with you whenever you go anywhere.

If you know your child gets anxious, come up with some strategies to help distract your child or help them come up with an exit strategy where they can let you know how they’re feeling and you can leave the event.

Speak with your child about some of the concerns they have about something in their future and work with them to come up with contingency plans to help them deal with those challenging situations.

Remember the lesson on mental rehearsal?

We can mentally plan ahead so when faced with a challenging situation, the brain already thinks they’ve handled that situation before and knows what to do.


#11 – Remember light-heartedness

Whatever we experience with repetition is going to become our norm.

It becomes a baseline reference point for what to expect from life.

The mind will get used to those experiences and will adapt to its environment with coping skills and habits of reacting to those experiences.

If your child’s life is full of conflict, anxiety, bullying, demands and confusion, that can become her normal. That becomes her baseline expectation of life.

He will learn to adapt to his environment and behave in ways that cope with that environment and do things that pursue pleasure and avoid pain.

Whether appropriate behaviours or not, this will become her way of adapting and coping with her environment.

While we want to help your children to shape and change behaviours and learn new skills, don’t forget to give them a reference point of life being fun.

Help them learn and adapt to life being light-hearted.

They need to have experiences of love, acceptance, approval, encouragement, success, inclusion, feeling good and feeling good enough for the people who are important to him.

Because we want that to become her norm too, and that can only happen with repetition and consistency of being exposed to that in her environment.

But the challenging thing for you as their parent, is that there is no magic wand here.

Helping your child manage the challenges they face is going to require you to stay aware of the balance between light and shade.

Is your child dealing with a lot right now? How do we balance that out a bit by helping them to experience something more light-hearted in between the tough times?

How do you help them deal with the problem and then put it down for a bit to have some fun and enjoy the easier aspects of life?

It’s going to depend a lot on how you are seeing things.

If you’re seeing your child’s life through the missing out lens, focussing only on the hard time they’re having, the challenges of their behaviour and the problematic behaviours, that’s all you’ll see because the mind will always find evidence of what you have your attention on.

However if you can find the hidden good in the bad and you can recognise that the seriousness doesn’t have to be the only part of yours and your child’s lives, or your relationship, and then deliberately integrate more light-heartedness into the equation, your child will learn to do this also.

This is not a pathway of perfection though so don’t expect that from yourself.

It’s not about perfection. It’s about awareness and adjustment.

It’s about staying aware of how you are seeing things, noticing negativity, pessimism, feelings of defeat and hopelessness and using the tools you’ve been leaning to adjust your emotional state of being first, and then working on your child’s.

It requires you to take a breath, accept the reality of the moment and soldier on up the Mind TRACK to Happiness ladder as often as you can, knowing that everyone is doing the best they can with the information they have and that the whole purpose of life is to live, learn, share, grow and evolve.

It’s not about getting it right or getting it perfect.