Shaping Behavior in Autism: Possible or a Voyage to Unavoidable Doom?

Extensive chart showing unending paths to shaping behavior

I never thought there would be an accurate, visual representation of all the things an “Autism Mom” (forgive me, it’s what works for me sometimes lol) deals with in my case, yet here it is. Despite my fictional Ph.D in Inconsistent Parenting and Overeating Snacks Due to Stress, I do work tirelessly, whether in thought or practice, to try and shape supportive strategies for my two children with autism. In between bouts of yelling out of frustration and thoughts of giving up and allowing Lord of the Flies to take over in my home, I spend a lot of time working through remembering what I’ve tried and the subsequent realization that pretty much 80% of it has either failed to take hold or failed overall. I don’t give up though; I can’t.

Four puzzle pieces, all a different color

Another issue with autism, like in several of my past posts, is that the thought process in helping is riddled with so many different types of manifestations and potential strategies that it’s very difficult to find anything that even comes close to a “one size fits all” mentality. I don’t think that ever works when it comes to issues in the field of mental health. One person’s successful treatment is another’s total failure to make a connection or change. There’s nothing wrong with that concept, just that it makes things verging on the extreme when it comes to devising corrective strategies for successful behavior modification in all areas of behavior, social interaction, education paths and much more. I think the autism puzzle is like one of those 10,000 piece puzzles that take people years…quite obvious yes?

In my son’s case, his food selectivity made it somewhat easy when he was around ten, to teach him to make his own evening meal in the toaster oven. Supervised for a long time to ensure safety, he eventually took over doing it completely and now he does this with several things. So, where the lapses appear involve issues like: Cleaning up, washing the appliances themselves (like air fryer pans, waffle grids, etc), timing (not coming in when everyone else is making meals), and other things that can add frustration to an accomplishment.

What winds up happening a lot of the time is when one person in the household does something that needs attention, things get out of hand. Adults wind up disagreeing on what should be done, if anything, other children feel like they are suffering because of all the goings on and sometimes I feel like giving up and walking away. In the end, the results can be unproductive and lead to more frustration. This vicious cycle can repeat itself over and over if not dealt with. Unfortunately, there is NO handbook. Well, there are handbooks, but they can sometimes be written by people who have never parented a child on the spectrum, let alone your child.

How to avoid the chaos is the key, however, I think I dropped mine down one of those sewer grates and it’s being guarded by that clown I see in memes from the “It” movie I never watched. Well, at least that’s how it seems.

Movie clown I don’t know the name of offering key to all my problems

Back to reality, I’ve read SO MANY BOOKS about autism and behavior. How about 1, 2, 3 Magic! Anyone? I wasted so much of my time reading a book about what my parents did with a few more numbers. “I’m going to count to ten and your backside better be in this house!” Surely that will solve everything right? Screaming numbers at your children and threatening them with some terrible thing at the end will enact positive change that’s permanent right? *loud buzzer sounds negatively* It MAY make things better for like 17 minutes or until the crying stops, whichever comes first. While I still don’t know the true path to positive change, I can say for certain that book didn’t help.

Then, THEN, there were the baskets. Good grief the baskets.

Three baskets in a display

So, I chose these three baskets because there are three in the technique and I’m really hungry and this looks like baskets that would contain baked goods, so it’s a well rounded photo. The concept with the “three baskets” was:

  • The first basket is where you put problems that cannot be left for a later time. Issues like a child trying to turn on a hot faucet, open the oven, grabbing a knife you’re chopping with etc, or running away from you in a store. Really hot button events that you need to stop everything to deal with. Discipline might be swift and anger based, serving no permanent purpose.
  • The second basket contains really important things like teaching how to do a chore or dealing with teaching better hygiene, school behaviors and the like. This basket kind of just sits there, with an “I understand this basket, but the first basket is on fire”.
  • Then we have the ubiquitous “Basket Number Three”. I named it such because I can’t find it. EVER. I know it’s there, it should be right where I left it, but it’s gone. This is the basket where everything ELSE goes. The haircut you put off because they flip out the entire time they are there and you need to research an autism friendly barber/stylist is a good example of one of the MANY items overflowing in the third basket.

So, final conclusion is that, for all the time I wasted on this madness, it doesn’t work.

Lists? Tried that, I can’t even remember to pick up life saving medication for myself, so I don’t see having several lists is any different than baskets to be honest. Years ago, the incredible, amazing Boardmaker, owned by and supplied to me laminated by the school in charts and other pictorial wonders that helped us get through the day is a fond but distant memory. In my case, they progressed beyond their working any more, for which I’m grateful, but I don’t have a replacement in mind like 15 years later.

The Amazing, Wonderful days of Boardmaker

So, with all of my rambling, I still truly don’t have any solid, workable solutions. As a young adult, my son takes care of his doctor appointments, prescription filling and refilling, transportation to and from work, working a 30-40 hour week, cleaning his room, doing his laundry and helping out around the house. He’s come a long way and I worked very hard to get him to this place. He deserves more praise for how proud of him I am and I need to put that in basket number 1.

My teen, well, she’s going through that stage where everything is all anxiety and stress and grades and boys and worry, so it’s tough. I know she has good medical professionals who are working to help her, family who loves her and a good shot at a great future. It’s going to take a lot of time to continue working on making things better for them and helping guide them in a productive way. I’m not sure how long it’s going to take me to figure it all out, but I know that trying to do it with more patience, less “losing it” and recognizing the good things they do instead nitpicking everything they aren’t is going to help them build confidence in themselves and keep moving forward.

Still can’t watch this movie without sobbing like a baby…but how good was it? Haven’t seen it? It’s that good.

2 thoughts on “Shaping Behavior in Autism: Possible or a Voyage to Unavoidable Doom?”

  1. Ben is super visual and loves watching the credits at the end of ANY movie. With Meet The Robinsons, he was in umpteenth happy flappy heaven! I’ve seen that movie more times than I can count, and YEP! bawling my eyes out every time.

    I was agreeing with everything you wrote. The thought I had was: even if you figure out something that works, the kid is going to be completely different at any random moment for no discernible reason. I swear sometimes I blink into an alternate universe where things are exactly the same except Ben’s mood. Just la la la, *blink* honey sugar iced tea! What’s going on? What happened?

    So, in the Robinsons spirit, Here’s To Failure!🍾πŸ₯‚πŸŽ‰πŸ‘

    Like

  2. You get me! I’m glad I’m not the only one who loses it during that movie. I’m also adopted as you have probably read, so it’s like a double whammy for me! Yes, one minute everything is quiet and you think you might be able to get some alone time….NOPE! πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

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