Spring is bringing new life to Welcome to Normal! No, I am not pregnant. But my crystal ball is revealing many new visitors and topics in the months ahead. On May 1, I’ll be one of over twenty bloggers hosting a Mother’s Day post by Hartley Steiner from her First Things First series at http://www.hartleysboys.com/. Then, over the month of May, I’ll be running my Mother’s Day Interview series with women who parent children on the spectrum and blog beautifully about their experiences. I am genuinely excited to share their stories with you, as I believe they have truly valuable insights – as much in one interview as you’ll find in many books!
Over June, the Dads take a well-deserved turn at the mic. I believe their voices are often missing from the discourse – for a variety of reasons – and my goal with this series is to bring together the perspectives of a group of dads who write about their high-needs children with love, respect, and purpose.
Somewhere in there I also hope to feature my upcoming interview with William Stillman. I cannot tell you how much I’m looking forward to reading his responses to my questions, and sharing them with you.
And in between all these inteviews I’m looking forward to a guest post from one of my followers, Island Mom, about a therapeutic option she’s had great success with.
But what’s been occupying a lot of my behind-the-scenes blogging time lately, is my research for a series I’m planning, called The Business of Autism. Researching this series has led me down a lot of interesting – and disturbing – paths that I didn’t anticipate. It’s become somewhat inevitable that this series will involve some controversial topics, but it will never be controversy for its own sake (one of my biggest pet peeves about the media), but rather an opportunity to explore some legitimately difficult questions, many of which I had never before been knowledgeable enough to even know to ask. I’ll be exploring issues like prenatal genetic testing for Autism, why a respected young man with Autism had his nomination to the American National Council on Disability blocked, and why I now believe we have more to fear from Autism Speaks than we do from Autism itself.
Until then, I wanted to share with you an incentive system we implemented for Simon a few months back. It’s about as basic as you can get: one checkmark for each positive step or action. No checkmarks are ever taken away per se, but remarkably poor behaviour will earn you an x, and in the end that cancels out a checkmark. I make sure to reserve the dreaded x for an exceptionally challenging behaviour (like non-stop complaining about the same subject for half an hour, or threatening to hit when he's angry) but never for meltdowns (which are rare these days). The checkmarks are allocated according to some basic categories which are pulled from goals we set for Simon in our daily life. In the photo you’ll see these categories include Helping When Asked, Helping on Your Own, Taking out the Garbage, Carrying In The Groceries, Good School Attitude (we homeschool), Bathroom Responsibilities (adequate wiping, adequate bathing), Nose (to quit the picking habit), etc.
Each checkmark earns him a quarter, and we use this as his allowance. We add up all the checkmarks at the end of the week, minus any x’s, and pay them out. Simon generally heads straight to Ebay for Lego Starwars minifigures at that point.
For example, one look at our chart and I can see the areas Simon is really strong in, and areas he’s made improvement in. This does two important things: it helps me recognize what issues I can back off of because he has them under control, and it gives me the Big Picture: a reminder that, despite our many challenges, Simon is one terrific kid. Look at all those checkmarks! On days when I feel like I’m drowning, or days when I find myself harping on what he isn’t doing right, this chart gives me a visual reminder that in the Big Picture, Simon is doing well. And so am I. The gift of perspective is no small one.
Another benefit of this at-a-glance record of behaviours, is that I can track weeks with a high occurrence of the dreaded x. I can see, for example, that Spring Break week (where Simon attended a day camp at a local museum) his x’s were higher. Understandable, but also perhaps an indicator that next time we send him to daycamp we need to increase our sensory work, and perhaps send him with some extra tools for success. Conversely, maybe I need to reconsider handing out x's during particularly stressful weeks for Simon, when he's likely doing the best he can in a new environment.
I can also see that the week we allowed his bedtimes to creep into the later hours, he received significantly more x’s. Time to rewind that bedtime clock. This system allows you to track behavioural responses not just by weeks, but by seasons too. Is your child affected by lack of sunlight in the winter? Allergies in the spring? You’ll see it with this simple chart.
I wasn’t a checkmark nazi; I was liberal with giving them out, and didn’t keep a meticulous score. I kept the chart taped to the wall in our highest-traffic area where most of the checkmarks/x’s would be dished out (great room) and kept a rough tally in my head when I wasn’t near the chart. It’s been very easy, and effective. Here’s hoping it is useful to someone else out there :)
Simon a la Blues Brothers