Last time, we heard about a family with three children. Their parents reported feeling pulled in all directions.

Identifying a need: better inclusion of children with special needs in their families

We asked the family to identify the biggest area we could make an impact. The family thought about it, and decided they most needed help involving their 7-year old child with special needs, in the family’s after- school routine.

Originally, they were concerned because their home felt chaotic every afternoon before dinner. Their child with special needs had adopted a routine of pacing around the home, using loud, disruptive self-stimulatory behavior for several hours while his several other siblings did homework together, received coaching on their math problems, and helped prepare the family’s meal. There were many reprimands provided as the child became more vocal, attempted to get attention from his mother while she assisted other siblings, and attempted to gain access to their refrigerator before dinner. The situation normally turned into chaos as the child with special needs began to self-injure, his siblings became frustrated and stormed off to escape the noise, and argued with each other as his parents tried to make dinner while managing the behavioral challenges.

Putting it together

The behavior analyst supported the family to start small, by identifying one family chore the student with autism could do to help the family.

No one had considered this before! The student had never been asked to do chores before. Different family members expressed that they didn’t know it was alright (or safe) to ask their sibling with special needs to do chores. They also expressed that they thought it would just create more problems if they asked the child to help with housework, and worried that it might even be inappropriate.

But by starting very small, and working together, the family discovered the student loved to help.

And the family gradually began to involve ALL their children in the after-school routine.

At first, only one thing changed after school: ALL three siblings were instructed and helped to select a “chore” from a new family chore chart.

Soon, the family reported they felt “more like a family”. But that’s not all!

Meaningful results

At first, the family included choices like “straighten all the pillows in the living room”. This was something the child with autism did ANYWAY! He usually did this during the evening as part of his repetitive routine.

But NOW, after he did it, his family could enjoy and discuss his participation in the routine.

Then, he learned to return to the chore chart after doing his one, easy chore, and check to see what was happening next.

Here are some other ways the student began to be involved more in his family, by altering ONE expectation in their routine:

Before After
School or IEP goals were practiced only at school The student began to practice his IEP goals at home. The opportunity to practice skills in many settings instead of one, and with all his family members instead of just with his teacher and therapist, strengthened the skills.
Greg used to refuse to participate with most instructions, and his mother had stopped instructing him to help out at home because it almost never worked. After Greg learned to participate in a single chore during the family’s routine, the family used a behavior analytic “shaping procedure” to gradually increase the amount of time he participated. He is now participating for 60 minutes with occasional breaks to run around the house. His mother is working with the behavior analyst on how to make her instructions most likely to insure success and participation.
His siblings used to roll their eyes and go in another room when their brother disrupted their homework routines by constantly running in circles in the living room while they worked. Now, Greg AND his siblings find quick “activity breaks” on the schedule between chores or homework. Now, they set a timer for 2 minutes and jog, jump on a mini-trampoline, or do jumping jacks together. Then they select their next task and everyone goes back to work.
His behavior used to seem like “a problem to get rid of”. Greg’s family learned that his behavior was not totally inappropriate- rather, it was often inappropriate to the setting. NOW, they plan in advance to provide times Greg can fulfill needs for motor movement, sensory input, or interaction. Because they actually schedule these things in their afternoon routine, Greg’s needs AND those of his siblings could still be met. Greg gradually used self-stimulatory behavior less and less, and participated in family interaction more and more.
Greg’s mother reported feeling “powerless” and “helpless” and “guilty”, facing the challenge of managing Greg’s behavior while she attempted to help her other children. Greg’s mother reports feeling “empowered”, and she now plans car trips, Saturday mornings, and family vacations with her new skills: She plans in advance how everyone will be involved in the activity, what kind of instructions or breaks or encouragement they might need, and what kind of visual tools would be helpful on the outing. She begins each family outing by reminding everyone of these expectations.

How can your family or community insure a special needs child is included this year?

Your friendly neighborhood behavior analyst is ready to help!