All kids need their Self-Esteem bank to receive regular deposits. This isn’t optional. At the end of the day, our job as parents is to help grow this incredibly special being in to a contented, well-rounded adult capable of functioning and living in a way that is good to themselves, and society. I’d like to hazard a guess that for the ASD kid, that Self-Esteem Bank needs more deposits, it haemorrhages funds in a way their NT counterparts don’t. But the juxtaposition to this is that, the ASD kid is likely to need more direction, more guidance, and is likely to receive more ‘no’s’ in an average day than the NT one. Doing this, without inadvertently making continual withdrawals on their Self-Esteem reserves is a tall order.
We’ve recently instigated a new ‘system’ of Carrot & Stick. I’m hoping it’s considerably more weighted on the Carrot side than the Stick side. The reason being, over the last six months or so we’ve resorted more and more of the stick form of direction. “If you don’t stop you’ll lose this” – so many negatives. Less and less we’ve noticed the good. More and more we’ve noticed the bad. It hasn’t been intentional. We’re tired, we’ve had a great deal of stress in our lives, but we need to stop it. Funnily enough, alongside it, fun has been harder to achieve, every day was a battle of wills, every evening left me feeling pretty wrought out and dreading the next.
But the reality is that, we need Boo to do what he’s told to do. We’re not harridans, but if we’re leaving the house in 5 minutes to go to his activity, it matters that he’s appropriately dressed, got shoes on and has everything he needs. But this wasn’t happening. So what’s the carrot?
For Boo, as with many ASD kids, it’s an electronic gadget: in his case, ‘the laptop’. The phrase “please may I go on the laptop?” has gained such power. It’s enjoyable, calming, creative, educational and fun for him. For us it’s an easy ‘break maker’, so easy to take when we’re tired and desperate for a break. But for Boo, and his ASD brain, it’s also addictive, and he can become so absorbed in it that he is unable to stop or communicate at all. Whilst it allows him a freedom and world of creativity he can’t access differently, it also hinders him from engaging in the real world, the one we live in. He’s created the most incredible Minecraft worlds, with hundreds of followers, it’s incredible considering he’s 9, but it’s not all there should be to him. So, it’s become the carrot.
Boo now earns made-up ‘dollars’ that directly convert to laptop minutes. And wow, it’s a good ‘un. The week day is split in to three ‘challenges’ that have his expected behaviour absolutely precisely detailed: The Morning Routine, The Car, and After School. Three Hot Beds of Parental-Hairpulling. So for remembering to put on his shoes before breakfast he gets $2. For putting on his coat without reminding he gets $2. For having his teeth brushed without a fight, $2. Each challenge allows a total amount of minutes on the laptop for the day that we are happy with. It’s clear, it’s precise, most importantly: he knows what is expected of him. And we as Mum and Dad have a very specific redress system: the emotion can be removed. At specific points through the day he reads out his Challenge Sheet and we total up the dollars earnt, which he then physically puts in his Laptop Bank.
On top of this he gets the opportunity to earn extra dollars for the ad hoc things that happen throughout the week. Importantly, he can earn big bucks for the things that are important for helping him to cope with his ASD as well as the tasks and responsibilities he needs to learn in order to grow-up good, healthy, happy. In Boo’s case therefore his biggest way that he can earn dollars is to use one of his calming activities when he is on the verge of meltdown: the treadmill or a bike ride. Noticing he’s struggling and needing an outlet is going to be one of the most vital skills we can give this kiddo. Meltdowns are scary enough in a 9-year old boy, he needs to learn how to avert them before he’s a hormonally fuelled teenager. And he’s getting there, with a few prompts and the ‘carrot’ of laptop time.
No doubt in six months the system will need changing again, given those pesky goal posts have a habit of not just shifting but getting up and relocating to a different city, but for now it’s working. Boo knows where he stands, we can deal with things calmly and appropriately. Everyone is singing from the same Challenge Sheet. Go us. Go Boo. Go Laptop Bank.
What are your top tips for discipline when ASD is in the mix?