ABA Works: It Doesn’t Have to Be Like This

These past two weeks have been rough from a parenting perspective. It’s completely understandable. Our Henry’s defiant behaviors flared up big time during the move. I’ve done a ton of work in the past on myself to stay calm when working with Henry. In the middle of moving to a new state, though, I had zero reserves. I’m guessing I’m not the first (or last) mama to be emotionally entangled with my child’s disruptive behavior and also contributing against my own wishes.

Let me back up a bit. Henry is a strong-willed child. When he was a baby, about six months or so, we started sleep training (future blog here!). We would watch Henry on the monitor and you know what that little stinker did? He would watch the door to see if we were approaching, popping his pacifier in and out of his mouth, and when he heard us he’d flip over and start crying. I’m not joking! At just six months old. I knew at that moment I was in for a long parenting journey.”Buckle in Jessie,” I told myself, “this one is brilliant.”

Through Henry’s short lifetime he has met every milestone early and used each new phase in life as an opportunity to let us know why he knows more than us. From the crib into today. Henry believes Henry knows best.

I absolutely love this brilliance and fierceness in Henry. I tell him he was born to either save us all or take us all down and honestly I don’t know which one. Don’t worry–if he’s taking us down it will be systems that don’t serve us like his mama! Yet this fierceness in Henry also means he does not want to accept that grown-ups or his parents are in charge. As a child in our family, it’s our job to let Henry know what behaviors he can use to let us know his opinions and which ones he can’t.

It’s also our job to teach him we’re not on call for him 24/7 and sometimes no is no. All kids need this. This means that, in parenting Henry, I’ve put in more interventions that I can count. This does a hell of a lot of calming down my own nervous system (See “How Not to Lose Your Shit with Your Kids”) while parenting him.

Even the Best Parents Struggle

As a mama who is also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) I realize that I have a gift not all parents have. This is what I want to share with you! Let’s jump back to the present day.

Our family is in the middle of the move and I’m a wreck too. I wasn’t able to step back and look at my child objectively. While I did some simple things, like time outs, his behavior wasn’t getting better. The reason is I wasn’t being consistent with him and had no plan of action to follow in response to what he was going through. Now I know I sound all bookish here but let’s be real. The moment I realized I was in the weeds with Henry went like this.

We were at my aunt’s house, day two of our transition to Ohio. Henry was engaging in a ton of screaming when I asked him to do anything, followed by running out of the house without permission. This led to a ton of chasing. I also was trying to say yes whenever possible, leading to Henry thinking he had the green light to be in charge (which he happily took).

I decided to take my own advice and be present with him. I took my coffee outside and sat to watch him play. I was also reading while he was swinging to cool myself down.

…and then I heard my car horn beep.

I jumped up and saw Henry in my car pointing to something. I opened the door and to my horror, he had taken a shit in my car! He was honking to inform me. That was it guys. I was done. My emotional parenting (being a ‘yes’ mama & punishment for challenging behaviors) was not working. I asked my aunt to objectively observe our interactions. I also started listening to the Podcast “Unruffled” and running again.

Through this experience, I was able to reset my own emotional responding to Henry, cut myself a huge break, and put together a behavior plan for Henry. It took being calm, having outside support, and Applied Behavior Analysis to begin changing Henry’s current spike in challenging behavior.

One evening, after wine, I re-identified that Henry was still escape maintained, secondary to attention (ref. said shit story above). Hen’s plan is this:

  • Mama & Daddy = increase attention & decrease demands (watch the number of requests we make, so when we make one Henry isn’t overwhelmed)
  • Screaming = planned ignoring, let him feel his feels while not providing attention (positive or negative)
  • Refuses to do something = escape extinction (follow through every time)
  • Tolerance to no = positive reinforcement earns one star
  • Listening behavior = positive reinforcement earns one star

Each morning we pick out a small prize (I got a 50 piece Pokemon set for 20 bucks) and through the day Henry earns stars. He needs 10 stars to earn his toy at bedtime. Through this little plan, we’re filling Henry up with attention and lower demands (attention/escape prevention) and then not providing him the consequences he wanted from his negative behaviors. We’re also rewarding him with what we want to see more of. It’s been a week and we’ve decreased Henry’s screaming and refusals by 75% already. Mamas, Papas–that’s the joy! That’s the message. ABA does work. It doesn’t all have to be poop in a car.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy for Everyone

Applied Behavior Analysis is available to all parents when we need it. I’ve been in the field 12+ years and I forgot it during the move (give me a break! I was overly stressed too!) and yet, I was able to rely on it to create the change I want for my child and my family. I didn’t blame Henry’s behavior on his personality or developmental age. I took a step back and used science with self-care (remember I need to calm here) in order to shift our dynamic at home.

If you are having trouble with any of your child’s behaviors (um, yes please for all of us??), Applied Behavior Analysis is a wonderful tool to change behaviors by decreasing problem behaviors and increasing desirable behavior. It’s also the only empirically-based therapy for children with autism. If your child has a diagnosis of autism, ABA goes much deeper than I described above and studies the missing neurological milestones to decrease symptoms of autism over time. It’s this beautiful scientific gift to us all.

I hope by writing this I’ve spurred a little interest in all my readers to take a look at how ABA can help their family. And, if you need support for your child with autism, come check out Instructional ABA Consultants to see how my beautiful team of therapists can support your child.

Not in your neighborhood yet? Missing a service you’d like to see more of? Next week I’m coming to you to ask what you need. We’re expanding and building a brand for mamas. Starting dreaming mamas, I need you to build the best ABA-based company you’ve ever seen. We’re building a Tribe.


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