30 Jun 2010
One of the most characteristic traits of autism is rigidity, inflexibility, love for sameness and repetitive behavior. Why? Because it is easier to redo something than do something new. Even neurotypical people have a hard time making changes in their lives. It is easier to keep a routine. Change always comes with some effort.
Tips to train kids with autism to be more flexible from true stories
Story 1- I once had a student who would only use the brown crayon for a week then would switch to blue the following week. He had a pattern. Brown, blue, brown, blue and so on. I tried everything; only the following technique has worked for him.
I took the brown and the blue crayon out of the crayons box after he left. I did the same with color pencils. The following morning when he needed a crayon and couldn’t find his favorite, he would scream or start a tantrum. My answer to him was: “Use any of these crayons or color pencils.” If he continued whining or screaming I would tell him: “These crayons and pencils or nothing.” Sometimes this was enough to stop the obsession. But if he still insisted, I switched the coloring or drawing activity and offered a different kind of work. I usually offer two different worksheets. After a while, this behavior disappeared.
The important things
- Don’t give in, and keep repeating this everyday
- Don’t leave the child cornered without options and give her/him a way out of this trap
- The child will eventually learn that she/he is capable of changing/breaking habits
Story 2- An autistic boy was mainstreamed for PE (physical education). We were all excited about it except the boy himself. There was no way to make him participate or even stay on the field. The PE teacher was very patient and compassionate, and suggested that he gets help from a specialized APE (Adaptive Physical Education) teacher. She was the only one who managed to solve the problem.
What did she do?
She came while the PE class was in session and brought a visual timer and set it to five minutes. Then, she told the student that he is going to enjoy ten minutes of play on the playground equipments -slide, ladder, monkey bars and so on, which he loved- only if he participated in the PE class for five minutes. It took the two of us to just keep him in the group and on the field, even though he was not really participating. He was then rewarded the ten minutes on the playground.
She kept increasing the duration until he got used to PE class and stayed the whole period. The APE teacher had to come only six or seven times, afterward I was able to manage without her. The result was stunning.
The important things
- Don’t give in and be patient
- Children learn by repeating the activity over and over
- Find out what the child loves the most (it doesn’t have to be the playground) and have her/him work for it
Story 3- Children usually prefer certain seats or placements than others in the classroom. Don’t we also have a favorite seat in the dining room or when we watch TV? Sometimes the student needs to be removed from his favorite seat. The reason might be to avoid distraction, or she/he shouldn’t be sitting next to one particular student because they fight or one of them is too loud or for any other reason. If you realize that it is not just a preference but it is more of an obsession, then you ought to break the habit.
What to do?
Ask the child to change his seat. If the child refuses and starts whining and screaming have her/him sit in the time out chair. It is also called the thinking chair. This chair should have something different than all the other chairs. If it is not different in color or kind, just label it “Time-out” or “Thinking chair.” It should be known to everyone that this is the special thinking chair for time out. It is called “thinking chair” because the child will think about what she/he did in order to find her/himself excluded from the group.
What if the child is whining in the thinking chair?
- Pull her/him out of the classroom for a few minutes and give her/him a chance to try again
- Another idea, you may remove a privilege
What if the child loves time-out?
Some children love time-out because they simply sit there and do nothing. In this case associate time-out with work. So, if the child is in the thinking chair, she/he needs to do work.
Story 4- A five-year old autistic child used to stare at my earrings and get too close to my face. When I would ask him why he was doing this, he would respond: “You have same earrings” or “You have new earrings” or “You have no earrings.” It was always about my earrings. It didn’t matter if I told him “We are doing work now, eyes on your paper.” The only thing that would work was to tell him: “You can look, but keep it in your mind.” After repeating this for a while he completely stopped talking and staring at my earrings.
I simply ignored the behavior (staring), and he got tired of keeping it in his mind. The habit was broken.
Story 5- A special education teacher and mother of an autistic child shared the following experience with me. Her son used to hate listening to the music and used to escape in another room or plug his ears.
What did she do?
She was -on purpose- training him to tolerate noises and music. She had music playing everywhere all the time, in the car and at home. She is convinced -I shared the same view with her- that Mozart’s music is the best for autistic children. Now, her son grew out of this habit and doesn’t show the least sign of discomfort when he listens to the music anymore. It was just a matter of time and consistency.
There is a music by Mozart adapted for babies and young children, this is the most effective and therapeutic one for children with autism.
The important things:
- Be consistent
- Don’t give in and be patient, time solves a lot of problems
- Autistic kids are teachable and trainable
Tips for educators and parents
- Change the books, toys and games you set out for kids every week
- When you give the student options, don’t make them always the same every time
- Move things and furniture around in the classroom and at home from time to time, it is good to change the scenery
An important tip for parents
Please, diversify the snack and lunch you send to school with your child. We are working on flexibility. Expose your child to as much foods and drinks as you can.