Saturday, July 26, 2008

Helping Kids Get Unstuck--It Is Rocket Science

Getting a child unstuck when caught in a behavior loop that is dangerous, socially inappropriate, or simply getting in the way of learning, requires specialized thinking, like rocket science. The analogy seemed apt to me because, we always say that doing this or that is not rocket science, implying that it is not hard. But this is hard—not because implementing effective strategies is so hard but because considering them is so hard.

Instead, of accepting that a problem behavior will require more and different knowledge than one presently has, parents and teachers often continue to use strategies that they feel certain should work! Unlearning things that you believe strongly, like what constitutes good parenting behavior, or competent teacher behavior, is, as one mom recently said, like trying to change your DNA. I will provide some specific suggestions in the next post but as a starting point in this discussion, two things must be understood. 1) If a child has autism, this means that the child's brain does not process information in a typical way—and especially social information conveyed by talking. 2) Learning how a child with autism does process information will involve thinking in new ways about communication, reward and punishment, and what child behaviors require active intervention and what behaviors do not.

So, that is the bad news. Here is the good news. When you get the feel for how a child with ASD does learn, it is fascinating, exhilarating, and apt to change your world perspective a bit. There is something quite liberating about understanding behavior in a less socially judgmental way and replacing this with a better understanding of the human brain. All of our brains are subject to glitches and quirks and who among us has not wondered at the strangeness of the brain we carry around ourselves? While learning how to help your child get unstuck may be the rocket science of parenting a child with ASD, it is not beyond your capacity and success feels a lot like launching a rocket into the heavens.

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