August 10, 2013

Change the conditions before changing the child!

Don’t blame the child? Change the conditions first, and our interactions second!

When the child is acting out, acting inappropriately, or progressing as expected, it is very tempting to blame the child. The first tendency is to expect the child to change to meet our expectations, instead of changing our expectations to match the child. We somehow assume it is the child’s fault if they don’t match our expectations, therefore it is the child’s responsibility to change. This can be very damaging to children, especially since they often do not have the skills, or abilities to make those changes.

To avoid this trap, we must start with the premise, “Assume the child is doing the best they can, given the situation they are in, and their current skill level in dealing with it.” Most often if the child is behaving inappropriately, or not meeting expectations, then the demands of the situations are greater than their current abilities to deal with them. Given that assumption, then it naturally leads us to (1) re-evaluate our expectations and demands we are placing on the children, in light of their current skill deficits, and (2) either lower the demands (expectations), or provide greater supports in helping the child meet the demands (or a combination of the both). When the demands match the current abilities of the child, the child will learn and grow.

So, when faced with either behavior challenges, or learning challenges, we need to evaluate three primary conditions to support the child:

1. Change the demands and expectations:

First look at gaining success by changing the demands. In light of the child’s physical, sensory, cognitive, social, and emotional vulnerabilities, could the expectations and demands be changed to better match the child’s current skills. The sensory demands of the environment could be overwhelming for the child, the social demands may be way to confusing for the child, or the task demands may be way above what the child can handle. Break it down, make it simpler, and build in extra support to help the child out. This is where modifications and accommodations are important to match the environmental and task related demands to the child.

2. Change our interactions with the child

Once the demands/expectations are modified to match the child, than look at how we interact and teach the child. Does the child need assistance or guided support? Am I presenting the information favorably? Does the child feel supported and validated by me, or am I being too demanding? Does the child welcome my support? If the child is to be successful, we need to find the right approach that helps support their learning. We need to ask “does the child feel safe, accepted, and competent” with me? If the child is anxious, fearful, or insecure in our approach, they will naturally try to escape and avoid our guidance. Many behavior challenges are directly related to how the adult is interacting with the child.

3. What skills do we need to teach the child to be successful

Once we have lower the demand, provided needed support, and changed our interaction style, then we need to concentrate on teaching the child better skills in dealing with the demands. If the child is struggling socially in school, then we need to teach better social skills. If he is having trouble with controlling his emotions, then we need to teach coping skills. If he is having trouble reading then work more on teaching reading skills, etc. This way we are giving the child the tools necessary for meeting the environmental demands. Start simple, build gradually, provide support as needed, and develop the skills necessary for success.

Once we meet these three conditions, rarely do we need to blame, force, or punish the child. When the child is struggling we are the ones who need to make the changes, not the child. We are the ones who are placing the child in situations for they cannot handle. So, consequently let’s look first at changing what we are asking of the child, and how we are supporting the child, before looking at blaming or changing the child. Everyone will be successful and feel competent about what they are doing!

- Autism Discussion Page

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