Handling [Child]'s Behavior

Written for:
8-year-old boy
Fetal alcohol effects
Self-contained special-ed class
One-on-one aide
Response to teacher's discipline choice
By Terri Mauro


Professing to be pleased with a punishment has been in [Child]'s repertoire of behavioral responses for a long, long time without any sign of changing. My theory is that it is his attempt to be in control of a situation -- he can't control his behavior, but he can control the spin. It's sort of like when we do something clumsy and then say, "I meant to do that!" Many times at home he has insisted that he wants us to do something we've threatened, even when he clearly does not want it and is nearly in tears at the prospect (as when we threaten to take away one of his beloved cars). I think, by this time, it is a knee-jerk reaction on his part, and while on some level it gains him control, on another level it continues him in a spiral of getting reactions he doesn't want for things that he doesn't know why he's doing.

For that reason, I think it's best to ignore what he says, even though it can be terribly annoying. I'll usually say, "I don't think that's true," and keep on as though he does not in fact want the punishment. I would like to reinforce for him that it makes more sense to tell the truth -- which might be "I'm sorry" or "I didn't mean to" or "I don't know why" -- than to reflexively give these untrue answers. I don't know if he's ready to understand this yet. He still seems to have little awareness of his inner state, or at least no vocabulary to express it. Maybe when he says he likes something we know he doesn't, we can use that as an opportunity to model some more appropriate things to say.

With all due respect, I'm not sure it's helpful to ask him to write about why he made one of these answers, first because it implies that he has done it defiantly or deliberately and I don't think that's the case; second because it hopes that a consequence given at home is going to influence an impulse had at school and I think that's unlikely; and third because I don't think he has an idea in the world why he said that or what he feels, as the mess he wrote last night will evidence. I don't object to having him write sentences, because he could certainly use the fine-motor practice, but maybe an apology would be more appropriate. It may not change his behavior the next time, but it will give him a moment's reflection on the fact that the things he does can make other people feel bad or mad, and that's something he's at least starting to come to grips with.

As to the silliness: Have you noticed any pattern as to when it's a particular problem? We notice it at home around bedtime, especially when we've let him stay up a little too late. Also, less consistently, when he wants to avoid doing something he perceives as hard. Would there be any use in charting the times and situations he does this at school and seeing if there are any changes that could be made to help the situation?

I'm enclosing some pages form a book called "Steps to Independence," which was recommended at a seminar the special-ed department had for parents a while back. The A-B-C method they mention -- changing behavior by changing antecedents or consequences -- is pretty close to what we've found works best with [Child]. The material here may be pretty old hat for you, but maybe there's an idea in it somewhere that could help with these sillness outbreaks.

Then again, his behavior always takes a nosedive when he's having a physical or developmental growth spurt, and that may be what's happening here. In which case, if experience serves, we just have to wait it out.

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