Behavior Modification: A Primer

Dutch and I are done letting autism decide everything in our lives.

This means we aren’t kowtowing to the demands of rigid people who deplore change and who lash out in anxiety when things are different than the vision in their mind. It also means there has been a lot of screaming this weekend (theirs, not mine).

It’s really easy to fall into bad habits carved over time like dry, deep ruts in our routines. Often we give in to demands for treats or rides or rides to get treats or innumerable other things that our children use their whole selves to achieve. It’s difficult when one’s whole family revolves around inflexible people with a propensity to lose their minds when change happens or they don’t immediately get what they want.

Dutch and I are enforcing our own form of rigidity, which is that parents get to decide. Parents decide bedtime. They decide mealtime and snacktime. Parents determine if and when Jack gets to haul the shop vac around or if he must put it and the upright away for safekeeping, even if this request makes him berserk. Parents decide things, not children throwing tantrums.

We are employing Rule Number One of behavior modification, which is, NEVER EVER EVER GIVE IN TO A TANTRUM.

Never! Don’t do it. Wait it out. Even if you feel like screaming, too, which I often do. Remember you are free to cry afterward when the crisis has passed and you have won this round and you no longer need to project the face of pure placid calm against your screaming kid’s torrent of emotion. Cry it out, darlin’, and eat while you’re at it.

But in the midst of the storm, be cool (even if you don’t feel that way). When the kid calms down, again require him to comply with your request. Because if you give in to a tantrum, the kid learns that he has won. He learns that enough screaming means he doesn’t have to do what you’re asking him to do. He understands at a fundamental level that if he freaks out for long enough, he can evade basically anything.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “I never give into tantrums. This totally isn’t a problem for me as a parent,” I invite you to ask yourself the following questions: a) do 75% of my children have autism?, and b) why am I comparing meltdowns? They’re all horrible!

It’s tragic that meltdowns are a way of life for my people, and thus for me because it’s not a pleasant way of life. It’s nuclear freaking meltdown with lights flashing and buzzers blaring and people running around frantically. And it happens daily times three boys.

But not anymore. Now they are screaming because we aren’t giving in, ha.

Dutch and I are immovable. We are Stonehenge to their wind gusts.

We will win.


  3 comments for “Behavior Modification: A Primer

  1. E Jean
    August 28, 2016 at 11:17 pm

    Stay strong, sister.
    For what it’s worth: the astonishing quality – as well as the quantity – of screeching at my house is what makes my nerves jangle, so I started wearing those ear protector headsets that airport and landscape workers wear. You can get them at the hardware store; they’re bright red, so they make quite a statement. (I make a big fat deal about how the noise makes my ears hurt – are they bleeding??)
    Anywho, those ear protectors do a great job of taking just enough of the edge off the screaming so I can actually tolerate it for as long as they go at it. You can still hear everything – but it’s a beautifully muffled, much, much softer screaming.
    I *may* have also been known on occasion to pop my earbuds in underneath the headset and enjoyed a little Stevie Wonder.

  2. Blue
    August 29, 2016 at 12:59 am

    I’m super proud of your resolve. It’s hard, but you can do hard things. And ultimately it’ll pay big dividends to all parties. xox

  3. Amy Mautz
    September 9, 2016 at 4:02 am

    Please don’t ever stop writing publicly. You have such a gift and poise, as though hell on earth actually does have redeeming qualities. When dealing with neurological issues, one can become quite desolate with the fact that a:this is life. and b: these suckas aren’t growing out of this. I appreciate, no, need, your point of view, because through it all, you still find beauty, faith, God, and love. Also, cheers for poop on the patio instead of the living room.

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