Blog #3~Getting Your Goat
- Balsamic vinegar
- Olive Oil
- Fajita seasoning
- Penne pasta noodles
- Laundry detergent
- Acne wash
- Fluoride rinse
- Shaving cream
- Protein powder
- Shower gel
- Hand lotion
- Baby powder
That’s the short list and I don’t mean grocery list. It is just some of the stuff that Nick has gotten his hands on and dumped out on the kitchen floor. I wish I could say that I am rewinding to back when Nick was age six. But this is the here and now; the flavor of the week (or in this case for the last year or so.) Nick is 18 years old with a diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism. This makes for an interesting mix of behaviors.
I have consulted teachers, therapists and behavior specialists in autism. After they have a good laugh at the list, the conclusion is the same. First, it could be a sensory issue. Nick seeks out many odd things to look through, tap and stim on and perhaps the act of dribbling out a tube of Mederma skin lotion from the second floor banister is satisfying some sensory need. The second theory is that Nick is seeking attention and looking for a reaction. All I know that it is very hard to keep your cool when you see a full 64 ounce, Costco size container of olive oil emptied all over the floor. Fortunately I get my paper towels at Costco too. 🙂 I will say that the floor and my knees have a nice sheen to them. Then there is our poor cat, Miss Mellie sleeping innocently while Nick sprinkles a half bottle of fajita seasoning all over her gray fur. Okay, I had to run into the other room and laugh on that one.
Freshly seasoned and washed cat…..
The dumping is just one facet, you see there are many layers to Nick. He’s like a toddler putting all kinds of things in the toilet. A package of pens, my readers, his iPod nano and his Dad’s watch are just a few of the things he’s submersed. The newest trick is putting your shoes in the sink and running the water faucet full blast. Here’s the thing. He commits the crime, runs downstairs pointing up with a grin on his face and says “Uh oh.” He is always looking to get a response. It is not easy to keep a poker face during these episodes. However I look at it like this, Nick is just trying to *”get my goat”. I grit my teeth, make absolutely no eye contact. On a shelf near the kitchen now stands a stack of permanently borrowed, white gym towels. I point to the pile and he grabs a towel and cleans up. No reinforcement is given to him.
Better put Mederma on the list…….
Not all the things he does are this messy. Sometimes they are just plain funny, like a baby doll in the Pierogis….
So how can these inappropriate, attention seeking behaviors be managed? First, the incidences are documented on what is called a “Functional Assessment Analysis.” On the form I record the date and time of the incident. Then follow the ABC’s:
Antecedent= What happened before the behavior
Behavior= The actual behavior and incident that occurred
Consequences= What happened after the incident
After looking at these one can see if there is a common thread and determine why he might be doing the behavior. As I mentioned in my first blog entry, every behavior (even the bad ones) are trying to communicate something. In the case of dumping, often it is when we are busy working, on the phone or trying to get ready to go to work. It is clear that Nick is seeking our attention while we are busy. But mostly, I think it is a “control thing” for him. It is something that HE has power over in his own life.
With this information, we can take a look at what possible replacement behaviors could be put in place instead. This is where the “choice board” comes in. This board has appropriate choices in the form of icons which he can pick from to better occupy his time. These choices are stored away, so they are not accessible and become highly preferred objects. Below is a sample choice board. The drop box is filled with fun things to throw and dump, followed by the woopie cushion, DVD player and iPod touch:
The final piece will be to add an icon to indicate that the behavior he did was wrong. If he can see it in visual form, he will understand it. This is to be done again without eye contact so as not to reinforce the attention he is craving.
Icon to show for inappropriate behaviors:
In the meantime, as I put the final touches on this piece, I turn around to see Nick unloading the dishwasher by himself. I smother him with praise, “Good job big guy, I am so proud of you”. Catch him being good and reward him with the positive reinforcement.
Way to go Nick!
Show the icon for appropriate behavior:
All of these visual supports need to be done consistently across the board in every venue (home, school and community.) Hopefully with this plan in action, we can cut down on the dumping. At this point in our lives we shouldn’t be dealing with this type of behavior or having to reinstall safety locks back on all the cabinet doors. You do what you can in order to try and keep up with Nick. That’s what is in my noggin this week.
Here’s to not letting anyone get your goat*!
*The expression ‘to get your goat’ has its origins in horse racing. Race horses are very high-strung animals. Goats are often used as companion animals, to keep a horse calm. Someone wanting to fix a race would slip into the barn the night before the race, steal the goat, and then an upset, distracted horse would run a bad race. Hence, if you are upset and not at your best, it is said that ‘someone has gotten your goat.’
Nick age 5 with our next door neighbors in Northern California.