Minimal engagement, calm assessment, no immediate punishment or discussion, maintain control. These are the essentials to effectively dealing with any child who is behaving inappropriately, and especially for those children diagnosed with ASD. In this episode, a different response from Kristina to Max's behavior may have led to a different outcome for her and her family. Although in this case all was happy in the end (it is television after all), the situation did not have to escalate to a family crisis. No parent is ever going to be able to maintain emotional control all of the time; however, it's important to practice recognizing our own emotional states while we are parenting. This allows for corrective responses in our own behaviors, which in turn allows us to diffuse potentially explosive interactions and to end the "drama" quickly. These are the rules I try to remember - especially when dealing with Frankie: 1. Less is more, especially when it comes to talking. Long ago, while working as a house parent in a group home for children diagnosed with ASD, I learned a technique called "tracking." Basically, tracking is stating and restating the same command or request until there is compliance. For example, "Turn off the game. Turn off the game, two. Turn off the game, three." Don't talk about why to turn off the game. Don't discuss your emotions or reasons or ideas or anything related to turning off the game. Don't engage in any conversation or back-and-forth about turning the game off or what's going on with the game or the fairness of the request. Just say "turn off the game." 2. If you have to say it three times, force compliance the third time. This may mean actually physically "assisting the child in complying," or - as in the case of Kristina and Max when she turned off his video game while he was playing - simply do it yourself. 3. Less is more. Do not talk about the forced compliance, do not engage emotionally or verbally about the forced compliance or about the consequence of the forced compliance. Ignore all protest and or acting out at that moment. Any attempts to undo compliance should lead to immediate forced compliance again and again as necessary. Removal of the child to a neutral area with no emotional or verbal interaction may be necessary. While applying the above three rules, I like to think of myself as a robot or maybe a Jedi master. In fact, Frankie has even learned to reinforce this attitude. When I'm getting too emotional about a situation he will often say, "Roy, do not let your anger control you," in his best Yoda voice. 4. After the emotions have cooled and the crisis has passed, consider additional consequences for noncompliance (or additional consequences for any acting out behavior related to the non-compliance). 5. Always assign consequences or punishments that are easily seen as being related to the offense and that teach or train your child. In the case of Max's not turning off the game, a significant amount of time away from the game combined with an assignment to write a short essay on the virtues of compliance would have been appropriate. Since things escalated to calling his mother a name, perhaps another essay on respect with research related to the use of the insult, and time away from the game and away from the family would be appropriate consequences. When I'm in doubt about the appropriateness of a consequence, I talk with my spouse. I think it's always important to get a second opinion. You should never give a consequence in the moment (beyond the natural consequence of the problem behavior). Also, when you're giving the consequence is also the time to have a discussion about the incident that led to the consequence. Of course all this is easier said than done, and as I tell parents I work with all the time, the solutions to these behavior problems are quite simple - but they're not easy. Written by Roy Q. Sanders, M.D.
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