Yesterday my wife and I took our 7-year old, Jack, and 4-year old, Katie, to the San Mateo County Fair. All in all it was a pretty fun outing. We saw the pig races, pet some goats and sheep, ate some Blue Ribbon chocolate cake from the 4H baking contest and rode on the “Swings”. All was good until I let Jack talk me into giving him a few bucks to try his hand at a seemingly simple carnival game (note to reader: This would also be known as Parenting Mistake #1).
In this game one simply bounces a small basketball off of a backboard into a giant hoop to win a life-sized stuffed animal. “This is genius!” my son surely thought to himself, watching the guy operating the game easily toss shot after shot into the hoop. Then he got his 4 balls (mistake #2, I not only caved to Jack, but I also fell for the the operator leaning over and saying, “I’ll give you 4 tries for $5″). First ball bounced so far off the tilted backboard that it nearly came right back and hit Jack. That ball didn’t come close to the big old hoop. He tried to adjust his second, third and fourth tosses, but only managed to hit the rim once! Just like that it was over. My $5 gone in 40 seconds and no massive stuffed animal.
It being the end of a long day of walking in the sun at the Fair, and this outcome coming as quite a shock to Jack, he completely lost it. He started by crying, then sobbing. Then the denial set in and he started begging me for another chance at it – “I know I can do it with another try”. As I declined and the injustice of this whole turn of events started to register with him, he got angry – I mean pissed off. At this point people are starting to look. He’s yelling at me….DEMANDING! another try and crying at the same time. At one point as I tried to hug him he actually hit me – needless to say it wasn’t my finest moment of parenting, nor Jack’s finest display of sportsmanship. I definitely got a few of those looks from other parents that read, “My kid wouldn’t act like that.” And it definitely got me thinking about the obvious things that led up to this eruption and how I could avoid a repeat in the future.
Avoiding tantrums and other undesirable behaviors is something I know weighs heavily on parents of children with autism. I’ve been reading and listening to accounts of what it’s like when a child with autism melts down in public, or takes off running, or bites another kid at school – and seeing how these parents rack their brains trying to figure out how to prevent such landmines from being tripped. Jen Byde Myers @jennyalice – a great blogger to whom I am eternally grateful for sharing her story on MyAutismTeam - recently tweeted about the trauma of having to chase down her autistic son who took off running in a parking lot. Prather Harrell, mother of a 6 year old boy with autism, blogged on The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism that when her son threw a tantrum his typical m.o. was to “scream AS LOUD AS HE POSSIBLY COULD FOR AS LONG AS HE COULD.” And soothing an autistic child in a crowded, stimulating public place can be incredibly challenging.
Some parents try to keep a report of the circumstances surrounding such behaviors to help them identify the triggers and avoid them in the future. Catherine Oehlman recently shared the tantrum tracker she put together. ABA practitioners talk about tracking the ABC‘s (Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence) to help collect information around behaviors. I’m certainly no ABA therapist but my layman’s understanding is that “Antecedents” refer to the setting, circumstances and contributing factors immediately prior to the behavior. The “behavior” is clearly defined such as “took off running in a busy parking lot”, “fell to the floor and screamed for 10 minutes inconsolably”, or something positive like, “Smiled and maintained eye contact”. “Consequence” refers to the responses to the child immediately following the behavior and might include intended (“time out”) or unintended/unplanned responses (“kids laughed at him”, “he got lots of attention”, “he got hit back” etc..).
Knowing how incredibly busy parents of kids with autism are I’m wondering how many of you actually do try to track such behaviors and if you do, how do you do it? Paper and pen? iphone? something else? Answer this 1 question poll below and please feel free to add your thoughts or explanations in the comments!