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. 🙂


Teresa is the Author of "A New Course: A Mother's Journey Navigating Down Syndrome and Autism" and the mother of two boys. Her youngest son, Nick is 29 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD). Teresa's passion is helping others understand and navigate co-occurring Down syndrome and autism. She is a DS-ASD consultant, advocate, speaker, and author. Follow Nick's world on Facebook, Instagram & Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice of Autism and on Twitter @tjunnerstall. For more information and media links, visit

13 thoughts on “Blog #23~ ABA: Down Syndrome and Autism

  1. I need to take a page out of your book when it comes to reacting to some of Nick’s behaviors without emotion. You guys know that sometimes he acts out in order to see a reaction and when you don’t give him one, well, that behavior isn’t reinforced. Staying zen while Nick tries to dump out your hot coffee is much easier said than done, and you deserve props for being able to do it!

    1. Well Brian I wouldn’t say it is a constant state of Zen living with Nick. He still gets my goat every once in awhile. But really trying to keep on an even keel does seem to be helping. Again, a work in progress like the Golden Gate Bridge. Thanks for reading, see you Thursday! 🙂

  2. Thanks for this post. I found it interesting, very informative , and inspiring. Income away also feeling somewhat exhausted at the thought of being on the alert at all times. It seems in Nicks world anything and everything can be used for mischief and mayhem. Does he ever hurt himself or others?

    1. Yes we are usually in the red alert stage with Nick, but that being said if he is occupied with a movie, music or productive activity he generally stays engaged without to much mishchief. I just keep my ear open at all times for the water faucets that sometimes get turned on full blast, microwave and phone intercom buttons that he likes to push. Regarding the question has he hurt himself or others, we have had our share of meltdown moments over the years. As he has matured the incidences are fewer and far between. We try to anticipate these possible meltdowns and cut them off at the pass (not allow it to escalate) Thanks for reading Joleene! 🙂

  3. At the moment, we gate our 3 yr old from every room except his bedroom and the living room (where there is nothing on shelves, and his dresser drawers are latched). I got sick of him emptying every drawer, cupboard, trash can, etc. Oh, and then there were the 2 times he climbed into the hot oven 😉 Sometimes I think I’m not giving him the chance to learn to ‘stay out of things’ (but saving my sanity). What’s your take on that?

    1. Kristin, that is a tough one. When it comes to a safety issue there is no compromising. Certainly you have to pick your battles as well. That being said, I think there are some opportunities for teaching moments. Sounds like craves emptying out things. Maybe he could have one cupboard with things he can take out and put back in. (You could use a smiley face or thumbs up icon on the these areas that he can get into. Also, maybe some plastic bins with busy activites for emptying things (let me think on this). Giving him some simple chores like emptying the recyling bin. (I keep a small bin in the kitchen and Nick dumps that out in the bin in the garage and is given a lot of verbal praise.) One final thought, stop signs. If there is an area off limits you can put small stop sign icons on them to set limits. Try it with one room only ungated and teach the idea first. He does need to understand the concept of boundaries and a visual like this might help. Just some thoughts, off the top of my head without coffee yet. Feel free to email me if you have any questions: Good luck, keep me posted! 🙂

      1. Thanks – I like the sign ideas! And the bins. We could start in his room.
        I agree on the safety point – that’s why after $100 worth of locks in the kitchen we just finally gated it. Eating trash out of the garbage = just gross – ha 😉 Hot ovens and kids climbing = safety hazard.

  4. Like Jolene said, exhausting!!! But I know you’ve done a lot to improve these “happenings!” and will continue…… prayers are with you!

    1. Thanks Ali you have been an eye witness to Nick’s mayhem over the years. At least it’s not as bad as several years ago. Thanks for your prayers and cheers to Nick getting a little easier to deal with! 🙂

  5. Found this blog through a friend. I have a 13 year old son with DS and autism. It is a challenge! My son likes to undress and yesterday he did it while he was outside. I was doing some gardening and had turned around for a couple of minutes when I heard a car horn. Michael was completely naked and I was completely embarrassed. We thought we had this under control, but I should have known better. Any suggestions?

    1. Oh gosh, that must have been a cringing moment so sorry to hear this. If it makes you feel any better,in the NADS Retreat group (Dual diagnosis of DS/ASD) every single family has a naked story to tell. First of all have you been charting this behavior? I use a simple mini spiral notebook to write down behaviors-when they happened-what happened right before the behavior, etc… Look to see if there is a pattern (time of day, parent is busy say gardening-ha, at home, in public) This can help to determine WHY your son might be engaging in the behavior. It will also help you to perhaps cut it off at the pass if you can anticipate it. (Also, you might want to keep a stop sign icon on you at all times.) I am curious as to when and how often this happens. The other suggestion I would offer is to teach your son where he can be naked. In Mary Wrobel’s book “Taking Care of Myself” she recommends using social stories to teach the child that is only okay to be naked in your own bedroom or a bathroom. Hope this helps, keep me posted and feel free to contact me: One last thing, if you are on Facebook there is a dual diagnosis group and another one called Special Needs Parenting where you can post questions. Good luck 🙂

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