Posted in Autism, Behavior/ ABA

Blog #23~ ABA: Down Syndrome and Autism

Blog #23~ ABA: Down syndrome and Autism

Last week I spent some time reading over the blogs I have posted thus far while tagging key words on each of them. I  thought it was time to give you an update on how Nick’s behaviors are going since Blog # 3~ Getting Your Goat,  and Blog #10~ Nano Second, .  In both of these, I run through a multitude of stories of how Nick has been dumping out anything he can get his hand on, pushing buttons, alarms and generally driving us bonkers.  If you have been reading these blogs you know we implemented some changes. If you haven’t then scroll back as they are golden!  Did they work? Verdict is……

Drum roll please…………………

Those negative behaviors diminished significantly. When it comes to dumping out a Costco sized (64 oz. oh my…) of Olive Oil amongst other things, that’s a BIG DEAL!

What works for Nick is Applied Behavioral Analysis, also known as ABA. Quick definition…..According to Wikipedia, “Applied Behavioral Analysis is a psychological approach that uses the theory of behaviorism to modify human behaviors as part of a learning or treatment process. By functionally assessing the relationship between a targeted behavior and the environment, the methods of ABA can be used to change that behavior.”  ABA techniques and principles can bring about meaningful and positive change in behavior.  ABA is used for behavior and skill building in the school and home setting.

I want to spend some time giving concrete information on this as I was lost when this was first brought to me.   Rewind to Pleasanton, California when Nick’s teacher threw out her ideas of behavioral management at a meeting when he was five years old.  It made no sense at the time.  I hope to put a clear lens on it now. This is what I have learned….

 5 Tips for Changing a Behavior:

1. Choose one behavior to increase or decrease and focus on that.

2. Find meaningful reinforces (verbal praise, small edible treat, and preferred toy)

3. Use behavior management techniques consistently in all environments.

4. Encourage positive behaviors and discourage negative behaviors.

5. Use your ABC’s:

A= Antecedent… What usually happens before the behavior that might set it off?

B= Behavior… What actually happens during the behavior?

C= Consequence…What reactions follow from the child and those around after?

So, how did we get the dumping to diminish?  First step was to look at the antecedent. By keeping a log of his behaviors every time he dumped, I began to see a pattern.  Nick usually dumped things out when he was bored or we were trying busy trying to get out the door. This summer there was a lot of down time and Nick took advantage. So, I got him out of the house more on community outings like the park and going out to eat. This helped to occupy his time plus he came home more chilled out.

He is just a swining…. swingin….Oh yes!

At home Nick needed some redirection when we were busy getting ready for work or a tennis match.  I found a hook, a preferred activity.  He loves watching funny cat videos on You Tube.  A highly preferred activity (something he craves) used sparingly captivated him.  In addition, it helped to simply avoid the antecedent.  By putting the child proof locks back on the cabinets this shut a lot of that temptation down. That works unless you leave the cabinet open.  Insert picture of me in the closet shielding in my eyes as Nick comes at me with his finger on a can of hairspray. 

My final suggestion is to use the distraction method. Let’s say Nick goes for a cup of coffee.  I know he is going to dump it.  Immediately I do something funny like bonk my elbow on a chair and he laughs as I scoop up the mug.  Or maybe just say, “Mom’s coffee, give me, thank you.”  The distraction technique works especially well if a behavior is escalating to a possible meltdown, a quick slapstick move or joke can help change the focus quickly.

Secondly, let’s look at the actual behavior.  Nick has that can of hairspray in his hand ready to fire off a round into my eye. I use a hand over hand technique and redirect him to spray my hair.  Or I take his hand and escort him back to the bathroom to put it in the cabinet.  The point is to stay calm and not draw more attention to the behavior because that is EXACTLY what he is yearning for.

Regarding consequences the method is swift and simple.  Dumping equals clean up.  I point to the stack of gym towels and Nick gets one and cleans up the mess.  No words are spoken, no praise is given. No matter what it should be a natural consequence and never a punishment. There is a time for praise and it is given freely and enthusiastically when Nick completes a chore or task that is a preferred activity. There are many more behaviors than just dumping and how to handle them, stay tuned…..I will post more!

The days are running smoother but not without bumps in the road.  Last Friday, my friend KB was over and in a matter of two minutes he grabbed her car keys and tried to push the alarm on the remote. Then he snagged her iPhone and made a beeline laughing as he headed over to try and drop it  into the toilet.  (He was being ignored and wanted us to know it.)  Nick followed up this weekend with giving the cat a special dandruff shampoo treatment.  He found the Head and Shoulders Shampoo hidden behind the towels.

 Plop, plop…..No dandruff for Miss Mellie anytime soon……Poor kitty 😦

“Oh wait ha ha, I think I will plop foamy soap on my head now, this is fun!”…..Says Nick!

By the way the cat is fine…… and flake free

I knew something was up on both occasions with KB and Miss Mellie.  Two words, devilish laugh.  That can only mean one thing; he has been up to no good.  Bottom line we have made strides…..  His behavior plan is always a work in progress, like *painting the Golden Gate Bridge it is never ending.


In the meantime I will  try to stay one step ahead of him.  That’s what is in my noggin this week.  I’d love to hear what you want to know about Nick and how we navigate his world living with Down syndrome and autism.  Until next Monday, take care and enjoy the changes coming as fall greets us.


*Regarding the Painting of the Golden Gate Bridge……There are a couple of misconceptions about how often the Bridge is painted. Some say once every seven years, others say from end to end each year. The truth is that the Bridge is painted continuously. Painting the Bridge is an ongoing task and a primary maintenance job. The paint applied to the Bridge’s steel protects it from the high salt content in the air which can cause the steel to corrode or rust. When I moved out there I wondered why it wasn’t painted Gold but here is the deal…Actually, the term Golden Gate refers to the Golden Gate Strait which is the entrance to the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean. The picture above is one I took when we lived out there. 🙂

Posted in Behavior/ ABA, Feeding, Personal Hygiene, Toileting, Recreation/Leisure and Special Needs

Blog #22~ Grooming 101

Blog #22~ Grooming 101

A few weeks ago in Blog #18~A Cut Above, I wrote about the joys ha ha… of giving Nick haircuts along with a few other grooming issues.  I thought this week I would expand with some information on overall grooming and fostering independence in hygiene and dressing routines. While it seems like something we all just do without thinking, it’s not as simple as that.

Well, maybe it is for a cat. Miss Mellie makes it look so easy and peaceful……

So where to start, tooth brushing, bathing, washing face and hands, dressing?  Several years ago, a wise autism specialist once offered this piece of advice.  “Pick one thing on the day you pay your bills each month and that is what you will work on with your child until the next monthly bill cycle.”  This helps you as a parent to focus on one goal without being overwhelmed.  The second *pearl of wisdom I have learned is to make sure you have a block of time where things are relaxed to teach these skills. Mornings are out for us since the bus gets here at 6:30 a.m.  Uh, no are you kidding me, 6:00 a.m. is not going to be a teaching moment.

Let’s start with brushing teeth.  I like use flip up caps on toothpaste as it is easier for Nick to open up on his own.   By the way, why does the toothpaste fall off a toothbrush so easily but it sticks to the sink like glue?  We use a lot of visuals to help Nick navigate his world.  Autism 101, if he can see it, he will understand it.  Here is the step by step sequence we use for brushing teeth.

I found these sequence boards in a software program called   “Functional Living Skills and Behavioral Rules.”  There are tons of visual prompts in this program!

This software program has step sheets for everything from showering to feminine hygiene steps.  In addition, it offers daily living schedules, community skills, and behavioral rules.  Another great resource is a book by Mary Wrobel called “Taking Care of Myself.”  This is a must-have for a parent with a special needs child. For showering the steps are posted on the outside of the shower door facing in for Nick….

I wrote the steps on the back. To prompt I slide my fingers to each the picture while Nick is showering….

Here are a few other visual ideas for shower and shaving …..

Over the years I have also used a lot of modeling of these tasks along with the visuals.  During Nick’s shower, I often pretend like I am washing too. Why, because Nick can get lost in “receptive words”.   Too much verbal cues get him caught up in the shuffle. explains it as this: “Receptive language”  is the comprehension of language – listening and understanding what is communicated. Another way to view it is as the receiving aspect of language. (Sometimes, reading is included when referring to receptive language, but some people use the term for spoken communication only.) It involves being attentive to what is said, the ability to comprehend the message, the speed of processing the message and concentrating on the message. Receptive language includes understanding figurative language, as well as literal language. Receptive language includes being able to follow a series of commands.”  So for Nick, it helps to use fewer words and focus on the visuals and modeling the desired behavior. For example rather than say, “Nick you need to get the shampoo and wash your hair.” I would either point to the shampoo bottle and mimic the action or simply say “Nick, wash hair.”  It is succinct and he gets it.

Time for me to get clean and slicked up!

The goal is to work to diminish the cues whether they are verbal, modeling or visuals. This idea is known as “Least Restrictive Prompting.”  Teaching a behavior starts with putting your hand over the child’s hand to show them how to do it.  Then literally you begin to fade back.  From there your hand is over the child’s wrist, then elbow, upper mid-arm, shoulder and finally letting go and being within close proximity.  The end result is to help him foster independence in all of these tasks.  To date, Nick is able to get his grooming bin out of the closet and follow a routine with success.  He also has hygiene built into his curriculum at school.

Here is Nick’s grooming bin. He also uses body spray but that is kept under the sink that has a childproof lock since he likes to take it and spray all over the place including right into your eyeballs (see more of these shenanigans in blog #10~ Nano Second.)

Last week in Blog #21, I mentioned the word “buck naked.” Nick has absolutely no problem undressing.  However getting dressed can be tricky.  He often puts his pants and shirts on backward still to this day.  By laying the clothes out a certain way, Nick is more easily able to get this done correctly. Note the shirt is laid out backwards so he can grab it from behind and pull it over his head.  The pants are laid out over his feet straight up so he can put one leg in at a time….

 Voila, it works! 🙂

Here is another idea.  Put a smiley face on with painters tape on the tag area and cue this to be in the back.

Bottom line is this…. As Nick’s mom, the biggest gift I can give my son besides love is to teach him to become independent in all of these tasks.  He will gain confidence, pride and hopefully a spot in a group home someday.  Not every day goes smoothly.   Sometimes we just have to get out the door, and if Nick is moving slowly I don’t force him to do it on his own. Pushing Nick too hard can lead to frustration on both our parts so I pick my battles.  Easy as a cat taking a bath, no but it can be done.  That’s what is in my noggin this week.  I hope the Grooming 101 tutorial was helpful and maybe enlightening.  Make it a good one and until next Monday and here’s to looking slick and sharp.  After all, as the ZZ Top says….”Every girl’s crazy about a sharp dressed man….”


*Pearl of wisdom according to says that “The biggest connection I can see between a pearl and wisdom is they both take a long time to develop. Also, both a pearl and wisdom seem like small objects but are both very valuable, and they develop from grit

Posted in Autism, Behavior/ ABA, Down syndrome

Blog #21~ What Is Normal?

Blog #21~ What Is Normal?

What is normal?  To quote Whoopi Goldberg, “Normal is just a setting on a washing machine.”  Normal is boring, average right?  So why do I crave normal?  I was driving through my subdivision the other day and I saw a group of high school boys on bikes and skateboards. I found myself thinking, that’s all I really want….to see Nick doing something like regular kids do every once in a while. 

Last Friday, my neighbor’s son came over after school.  I witnessed normal. I handed him the remote and he sat down and watched a Chuck Norris movie.  Later, while he read a book Nick stood by rocking back and forth like he often does. He then asked me, “Why does Nick always stick his hand down his pants when I am over here?”  Oh, I guess that is not normal. 🙂

In Blog #20 I wrote about some of the activities Nick still enjoys and how they are far from being age appropriate.  I want to expand a bit more on it this week.  If you read last week’s post, I bet you are wondering what he is watching right now?  That’s right he is still on a Thomas the Tank Engine kick. I crave normal because there is noise and chaos living in Nick’s world. Let me put a lens on it. The boy pushes buttons all kinds….. of course fire alarms being his favorite. 🙂 Besides the Holy Grail that being the fire alarms, he also enjoys the phone intercom, volume on the remote control, and popcorn button on the microwave. Is it normal to have to keep a cup of water in your microwave so it won’t burn up? Is it normal to hide your car keys up high on the kitchen cabinet so your child doesn’t set off the car remote alarms?   Doesn’t everyone have to hide their cell phone so their child doesn’t send it swimming in the toilet?  Speaking of toilets, is it normal to call the plumber to unclog something your eighteen year old flushed?  Sergio, my plumber had a good laugh.  He told me in his Hispanic accent, “You can still wear theeeese glasses they were in clean water, not poopy water.”

That’s where my readers ended up!

Okay, my mom said I use to take the knobs off the high fi and throw them in the toilet but I was only three.

Over the years strange things have gone on with Nick in our house. I can still remember Nick’s “naked phase” about seven years ago.  It was getting dark outside and his older brother Hank came in from the front yard.

“Mom, I could see Nick from the cul-de-sac.  He was *buck naked at the top of the stairs holding his wang.”  Sure enough I came out of the kitchen to see a prepubescent Nick stripped down with the light of the chandelier illuminating his naked body groping his you know what. I ran over and grasped the dimmer switch and pulled it straight down. We shook our heads. I knew exactly what Hank was going to say. “That boy ain’t right.” Its what we always say when Nick does something strange, call it our defense mechanism.

I am not sure what was going through Nick’s mind at that time or during any of his wacky stunts. I tried to express it with art when Nick was in third grade.  Remember the spoon man project?  The kids mold a clay head and it is attached to a spoon that sits on top of a platform.  It is up to the students and parents to make the spoon man come to life. This won a spot in the school district art show that year.

Note the artful details around the neck line.  Nick use to chew his shirt and it was always wet and mangled……

I wish I could crack open his skull and see what’s inside.  What I figure is that he knows that he is a funny guy. I wonder what it would be like if he just had Down syndrome and what he would bring to the table. I did stumble on a cool quote by actor, Chris Burke who starred in the hit television series, Life Goes On.  This made me smile…. 🙂

“Having Down syndrome is like being born normal. I am just like you and you are just like me. We are all born in different ways that is the way I can describe it. I have a normal life.” ~Chris Burke

It’s hard not to get swallowed up in Nick’s crazy world. Ordinary is welcomed.  “Don’t take normal for granted.” That’s what the mother of a 7 year old cancer patient said on the radio during a children’s cancer fundraiser event last week.  I get that, totally.  But then again, if I had normal I wouldn’t be writing these stories would I?  I wouldn’t have fun pictures like these to share. This is what he was up to this weekend……

I told Nick to get some clothes out and get dressed…..Looks like he is ready for the whole week…. 

For the record that was 11 shirts, 7 pair of pants and 3 pair of undies…..

Nick at the park walking swift and robotically with his arms up like a Bears linebacker….

Move over Brian Urlacher, Nick is poised and at ramming speed.

Nick pretending he is drinking two cans of mushrooms, he just fills up the canvas with silliness…..

When you rock the extra chromosme you can easily sit like this……He’s still very bendy…..

So perhaps normal is just a setting on the washing machine and nothing more.  I have to remind myself to embrace chaos and be content with all the colorful moments that Nick has brought into my world.  That’s what is in my noggin this week.  Have a great one and until next Monday, may your canvas be filled with hues of many brilliant colors. 🙂


*Buck naked.  I always wondered if it was that or butt naked. I guess I’m not the only one. Here’s what Wiki.answers says:

“It is both. The word “buck” or “buff” is thought to be from the color of a buckskin, which is the pale tan color of European skin – this gives you “buck naked” and “in the buff.” “Butt naked” refers to the fact that your buttocks are not covered.”

I have always heard it “buck naked”. I don’t think it refers to any color at all; the phrase was originally meant to compare one to an “Indian buck” as the men were called many years ago in a less politically correct age. They were commonly thought to be “naked savages”, whether they were in fact or not. Thus, “buck naked” implied being without clothing.





Posted in Autism, Behavior/ ABA, Speech and Occupational Therapy

Blog #20~ Is That Age Appropriate?

Blog #20~ Is That Age Appropriate?

Yesterday, I ordered Nick’s senior portraits online with the sound of Thomas the Tank Engine in the background. Sometimes it feels like I am living with a perpetual three year old. It got me thinking about some of the toys, music, and DVD’s we have weaned him off of in order for him to be more age appropriate. Yes, he is still drawn to some of that stuff.  Last week, we were in the waiting room at speech therapy and Nick grabbed up a Fisher Price musical toy. A couple of four and five year olds looked at him oddly as he towered over them swaying side to side to the song Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star which blared out of the toy with blinking lights. That is Nick’s idea of heaven. I had a flashback to seventeen years ago of the special needs support group meeting back when we lived in Houston.  The guest speaker was a mother of an eighteen year old who had Down syndrome.  I still remember her words in that sweet Texas accent, “What looks cute at age three is not going to be at age thirteen. She was right, I get that now. I asked him to give me the music toy so he could go in with his therapist, Brian. Suddenly he let out two words clear as a bell…..”Oh shit”…. now THAT was age appropriate.

I spent a lot of time over the years researching toys and activities that would enhance Nick’s development. There are several resources listed on my website.  Just the other day I stumbled upon a great site for age appropriate activities broken down in age groups.  Check it out at    One of my favorite bloggers is Noah’s Dad, he has his finger on the pulse regarding young babies and children with Down syndrome, check him out at:  He offers a wealth of information, links for great toys for younger kids and Noah is absolutely the cutest thing. One more note regarding age appropriateness for our kids with special needs, take pause in what the age level of manufacturer’s label states. It’s important to look at the developmental age of the child.  For instance, if the child is ten years old and functioning like a six year old, it would be wiser to pick a toy that fits their functional ability. Bottom line, you want your child with special needs to enjoy the toy and not be frustrated.  Autism and frustration is never a good mix!

As a mom, you want your child to fit in.  I can’t control the behaviors of my son that make him stand out in public (hand flapping, rocking, and loud noises that sound like a baby calf mooing.) But I can make sure he is dressed stylish and that he won’t be walking around with a baby toy that will make him stick out even more than he already does. In addition we ditched the Dynavox (aka “The Brick”)  that was his speech output device.  It was too big, bulky and not functional out in the real world. It has been replaced with an iPod touch chat program.

The old school CD player with nursery songs is long gone too…….

Nick had his own playlist at age 5…..

Look at that yoga boy…. so bendy 🙂

So here is the current state of Nick and trying to keep the cool factor going…..

Nick’s iPod playlist= It’s everything from Lady GaGa to LMFAO and in between including some gangsta rap that his brother, Hank got him hooked on.

Nick’s top movie picks= Mrs. Doubtfire, Little Man, Cats and Dogs, Stuart Little, Babe, and Cat in the Hat.  But he really digs anything with Eddie Murphy- Dr. Doolittle, The Nutty Professor and Norbit! 🙂

While I think Nick would be perfectly happy staying with the kiddie stuff, I have this longing for normal.  I wish he could play Wii/ X-Box video games and Angry Birds like other teenagers.  But that is my dream not his.  I have to remind myself to find a balance.  I need to remember the things that bring him happiness, resonate and connect the “dots” for him. Much like that furry, stuffed animal or blankie we hold onto from childhood, Nick still longs for some of those simple toys and watching Thomas the Tank engine every once in a while to make him feel secure. At home we allow it. He is safe with his friends Thomas and Harold the Helicopter.

 Today, naughty Harold made the cat’s head his landing strip, flipped the light switch repeatedly…hardy har har… and proceeded with some “*Tomfoolery”  at the stovetop….  

Soar high Harold……he rocks Nick’s world 🙂

Age appropriate no, but sometimes it’s kind of fun to not act your age.  That’s what’s in my noggin, until next week have a great Labor Day my friends.


*According to *Tomfoolery is foolish or silly behavior. A tomfool was originally Tom Fool, with Tom, a nickname from Thomas, being a stereotypical male given name. Tom Fool is thus a sort of fourteenth-century equivalent of our modern Joe Cool. As a (fictitious) proper name, Tom Fool is first recorded in the fourteenth century; a sense ‘a person who plays the part of a fool in various dramas; buffoon’ appears by the seventeenth century. The generic sense ‘a foolish person’ is first recorded in the early eighteenth century.