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Ignore the Behavior, Not the Child

Posted Oct 05 2009 10:02pm

At Spencer's monthly meetings with his therapists, sometimes I end up feeling really ashamed and embarrassed because I just can not hide any of my flaws from these guys. They know everything and if I am failing to do something, it will eventually come out and be addressed. This month, we focused on Spencer's behavior which had been growing significantly worse and I was feeling powerless.

Talk to me about a four year old who doesn't listen and I'll give you some ideas on what to do because I have some experience now that Logan is five. However, if you ask me about a two-year old who won't listen then I can't help you.

That is because when Logan was acting "crazy" when he was two, I was still in my helpless mode. I was in denial that something was wrong and the professionals around me did nothing but blame me for his behavior. We then just sort of rode out the terrible twos which never really stopped even after he turned three. Thus, to this day, I still don't know what to do with a special needs toddler. Even though I have read books like 1-2-3 Magic and Toddler Taming, I do not believe it can apply to my toddler, not yet at least. If I recall correctly, even in 1-2-3 Magic, there is a part that says something to the effect like... if this method doesn't work for you, seek professional help...

So what to do? Well, how about ABA to the rescue? Again...

My ABA Lead therapist and pretty much everyone else told me that I need to firm up on Spencer and ignore his attention-seeking behavior. This includes when he climbs on me, pinches, scatters, and throws things. I know that they are right. I believe it in my heart but gosh.... for an anxious person like me... ignoring is really so hard to do. "Ignore the behavior, not the child," she said as she reminded me that I should praise his positive behaviors.

I hate to think that my child thinks of me as a toy but I guess it is partly true. Sometimes he pinches me and I am so used to it, that I don't even say "ouch." So then, Spencer will even say it for me, "Ouch?" like .. "Hey, how come you are not saying 'ouch,' I love it when you say that."

I think that I can achieve "ignoring" as a behavior modification method if I can remember that "ignoring" is active. That is what was told to me in my parent training program for ADHD preschoolers at NYU Medical Center. They said that I shouldn't ignore activities that are harmful to him, to others or to property but rather ignore attention-seeking behaviors like whining, nagging, and tantrums. (Tantrums are the hardest because of the neighbors downstairs but I will have to try.)

There is a certain way to ignore too. I am trying to teach this to my husband because Spencer acts like a cuckoo clock at bedtime if my husband puts him down.
  1. No eye contact or non-verbal cues: turn your back 90 degrees so that your child does not even get a frown from you.
  2. No verbal contact: None whatsoever!
  3. No physical contact: If you have to, leave the room but try to stay because ignoring works best when you stick around to praise good behavior when it comes.
Apparently, you are supposed to ignore as soon as an unwanted behavior begins and stop ignoring 10-15 seconds after the unwanted behavior stops and then you can give positive attention for the good behavior.

I am exhausted just thinking about this but I have to admit, this is a weak area for me. I think it's because I am easily distracted and have little patience but just like my vow of near-silence, I need to take back more control and model more self-discipline by ignoring them when necessary.

My ABA Lead therapist said that what will likely ensue is something called an extinction burst where he will do more of the unwanted behavior before he stops. I must check to see if I have enough Shiraz to survive such a burst. It sounds like it could cripple me for sure. Lately, I have discovered that a nice cold beer can also help.

Picture: Spencer thinks he is so cool. He even sleeps like a cool guy! I have to find a way to encourage that feeling while helping him find more appropriate ways to draw attention to himself.
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