Underneath the Bursts

Underneath the Bursts

This past week I wrote to you about setting boundaries with our children. In my blog, I wrote about the importance of boundaries for the emotional development of children. I also wrote to you about my own struggles in setting boundaries as a mama. One of the main reasons I struggle with setting boundaries for my own children is the (out)bursts that come with it.

It just so happens that as a clinician one of my primary areas of specialization is problem behaviors (the bursts). It’s what I went to graduate school to study over a decade ago. Over 10 years later and I can tell you the science of reducing problematic behaviors hasn’t changed. My own journey applying clinical skills at home, of course, has not (well, not totally). Today I’d like to write to you about both.

ABA & Bursts

Let’s start at the beginning with ‘burst science.’ Applied Behavior Analysis teaches us that social behaviors, both positive and negative, can be broken into units that can be studied. In studying units of behavior, BCBAs are able to identify the function of behaviors (why behaviors occur) and missing skills in the child they are studying. When it comes to reducing problem behaviors, behavior analysts are looking for why the behavior is occurring. This involves looking at what is happening before the behavior and what happens after the behavior.

While studying the environment before bursts occur, BCBAs look for a deficit in the child’s environment. What are they missing? Studying environments after bursts allow BCBAs to see if the child’s problem behaviors filled the deficit. If they did, the child is successfully using the problem behavior to get their needs met. This means the problem behaviors are being reinforced and will continue to occur. Magic I’m telling you. Magic.

You see, by studying what a child is seeking in a specific environment you can create interventions that fill the child up with what they are seeking to immediately decrease the problem behaviors. This isn’t a long-term solution, but it creates a short-term solution to make the days easier for the child and their families. While the child is being satiated BCBAs work on teaching new skills surrounding the child’s needs. This always looks like teaching functional communication skills, how to ask for exactly what you need.

Sometimes teaching specific skills can look like teaching patience and tolerance to ‘no’ when what the child wants isn’t good for them to have all the time. For example, if a child is throwing tantrums to get access to candy it’s damaging to have non-contingent candy all of the time. But if a child is tantruming for positive attention, we can fill them up without having to teach tolerance to no. Though we might have to teach waiting because sometimes mama (or papa) is busy.

The key to this remedy is to also remove reinforcement when a child is using their problem behavior to get their needs/desires met. If, in the scenarios above, the BCBA is providing candy (one piece) every 30 minutes and within 15 minutes the child hits to get access to the candy the BCBA cannot give the child the candy. If they do they will reinforce the hitting and take the motivation away from using words. It is here, in this little sweet spot of the behavior intervention, that bursts occur. Let’s talk about that.

Why Do Bursts Occur?

Underneath the bursts for children (and adults… more on that later) is fear that their needs/desires won’t be met. The bursts occur because, in the child’s mind, that very thing they want could become unattainable, their need won’t be met, and they will have to experience negative emotions. Dealing with both the fear of a need/desire not being met alongside psychologically negative emotions is tough stuff for a child. This right here? This is the hard part for parents and the sweet spot for teaching emotional resilience and intelligence.  

As a mama, I know firsthand how easy it is to give in. To not want to deal with the temper tantrum, the screaming, and the crying. We are human beings and crying children is not comfortable. When we give in as parents at a given moment it provides immediate relief to ourselves and our children. It also perpetuates the very behaviors we don’t want to see more of and does not teach our children how to deal with the big emotions. 

About a year ago Henry and I were at Dametrius’s football game and Henry wanted candy from the concession stand. I had packed snacks and knew sugar was on the menu later so I didn’t want him to have extra candy. I leaned down and told my little son, “no, not now we’ll have dessert at dinner”. Of course, in public, a full-on tantrum occurred. At that moment I thought how perfectly aligned this example was. You see at that moment I could have made a concession at the concession stand by just giving in. If I gave in Henry would happily watch the game and I wouldn’t have to be teaching Henry to breathe and tell me how he feels. But giving in also meant teaching my son to numb his emotions with food and that screaming works. So I stood my ground and worked with Henry.

You see under the bursts, as we are teaching boundaries. As children burst, their hearts need to know they can ride through negative emotions and still be safe on the other side. That nothing bad comes from feelings and that needs can be met in new ways. To me, as a clinician, I know that working through the bursts creates long-lasting, positive, change. As a mama, teaching my children to ride what is underneath the bursts is more valuable than any concession I could make at any given moment.

Xoxo,

Jessie

Boundaries on the Home Front

Boundaries on the Home Front

Last week I wrote to you about my own journey in boundary-setting as a business owner and woman. This week I’d like to dive deeper into boundaries and talk to you as both a mama and a clinician about boundaries on the home front.

As a clinician, not only do I have extensive knowledge about early childhood development but one of my areas of expertise is reducing disruptive and dangerous behaviors. I spent the first five years of my career in Applied Behavior Analysis working in early intervention and on crisis cases.

I can see my young self now, rested for the day, walking into a therapy session and teaching things like how to work through a tantrum. I worked with each family on their own values and expectations of their child, observed the needs the child was trying to get through their tantrums, and taught consistent consequences to the family as well as adaptive skills to the child. In the range of adaptive skills I often taught language (use your words), patience, tolerance to hearing ‘no,’ disappointment tolerance, and expression of feelings. Each family and child was unique but the structure of the treatment was similar and based on boundary setting.

Learning Boundary Setting as a Mom

Fast forward about 8 years to when I became a mama and my son Henry became a toddler. Henry was (and is) a strong-willed child. I remember writing in his baby journal “I didn’t know babies came out like you…” because Henry was (and is) so vocal about how he sees things and how he wants things done. As a mama, I tried to also be a BCBA and use the same tried and true treatment structure with Henry. State a boundary, follow through with the boundary, use your words, and teach new skills. Easy right? No. Hard no.

Throughout my journey into motherhood, while I love my boys above all else, I have struggled with both postpartum depression (Henry) and a toxic home environment because of domestic abuse.  Toss in three boys who all have varied needs, wants, desires, and voices and the stress of setting boundaries felt impossible. You see, the thing with setting boundaries is that when you first set them children tend to resist them. Boundaries feel like a “no” to children (often they are) and the “no” feels like something for them to rebel against. As a parent, you have to be ready for the explosion as you set expectations. I’m going to be honest here; I could not weather the explosions so I became a, “yes mama”. Ugh.

Boundaries by Example

A year ago when I left domestic abuse my children & me. We were living in a psychologically frightening environment and I knew, no matter how much I wanted their dad to get help, that I couldn’t stay any longer. I set the boundary that I would not live in an abusive environment and modeled this incredibly important boundary for my children. 

Yet as the last year passed my small children had so much change in their little worlds. While some of my “yes mama” tendencies went away, some remained. Want a new toy? Sure. One more piece of candy? OK. TV time? You got it. This also worked the other way and when my children behaved in ways I didn’t love (not staying in bed, dumping their food on the floor, screaming for things) I would spend time making empty threats (one more time and then…) and eventually give in. While home life was much calmer as a single mama and my children were happy with me, I knew I had to reset, buckle in, and teach boundaries.

You see, without boundaries children don’t know which behaviors are OK and which ones are not. Without boundaries, they don’t learn how to navigate unpleasant emotions and what to do with their unpleasant emotions. They also don’t learn how to behave in social situations and can become impolite, spoiled, and disruptive.

Keep in mind that little children are still children. It’s basically their job to overreact while testing boundaries early on. It’s our job as parents, however, to shape their behaviors in positive ways. Yes of course I want my children to be happy but I also want them to know how to navigate their own inner and outer worlds. Boundaries are the way to teach this.

Maintaining Boundaries

As the fall came so did a new peace in our home. I set some simple boundaries for the boys I knew I could follow through with and continued to teach them how to navigate their emotions. I spent time making sure the values I set were in alignment with my values and that I was ready for tantrums when they came. The boundaries I set were for good listening, respect, kindness, and understanding “no.” 

My children have become calmer overall after the initial, “holy crap” boundary bursts. Boundaries tell them what is OK and what is not so they don’t have to guess or use tantrums to figure a given situation out. When they don’t like the answer they know we can hold space for them to be sad or mad. It’s a win-win. 

Me? I have a ton of compassion for the woman I was in early motherhood and know I was doing the very best I could at the time. I also am incredibly grateful that I’m in a space to apply my clinical skills to mommyhood. One day (and boundary) at a time.

Xoxo,

Jessie 

ABA Therapy Red Flags (Part 2)

ABA Therapy Red Flags (Part 2)

ABA therapy is the only evidence-based ASD therapy, but the treatment only works if it is done with care. Not all ABA service providers are the same. How can you tell if your child’s treatment is being conducted correctly?

There are some red flags you can look for if you feel your child is not progressing or benefitting from ABA therapy. The points we are going to talk about won’t cover everything, but they will cover some of the most easily observable ABA therapy red flags. 

We have split this article into two parts, as we want to mention why these red flags can be harmful and what you can do to notice them. Click here for part 1.

Not Listening

Every parent has concerns about their children. ASD parents usually have more things to be concerned about. If you have voiced specific major concerns to your child’s ABA provider without an acceptable response, you may need to rethink things.

By voicing major concerns we are talking about lack of progress, not sharing enough information, billing too many hours etc. These are things that should be addressed as soon as possible. Smaller concerns may slip through the cracks so you may need to repeat them in order to ensure they are taken seriously.

If all of your concerns go unaddressed by an ABA therapy provider, it may be time to look for a new one.

Only Using a Few ABA Therapy Techniques

Relying on a small pool of ABA therapy treatments and techniques can lead to a poorly developed program. If you notice your child is being treated with the same methods all the time, you may need to look at their overall program.

Some programs may focus on a small number of treatments for a set period of time, so be sure to ask when or if the program will change or progress. Your child’s ABA therapist should have a good answer why certain treatment methods are or aren’t being used.

All children with ASD are different, so be sure not to question a treatment program after a short amount of time. Have a discussion with your ABA provider to learn about the program that was designed for your child.

Templated ABA Therapy Programs

Similar to only using a few aba therapy methods, templated programs can be a major red flag for ABA programs. Every child with ASD is different and requires a different approach tailored to their strengths and needs.

This red flag can be seen relatively early in selecting an ASD treatment program or clinic. If you are presented with a brochure of programs or therapy ‘packages’ mentioned in a consultation, you need to really look at what is being offered.

In order to get the most out of ABA therapy, each child needs a custom-built program. ABA programs built on general needs will not help each child enough to address specific behaviors and needs.

ABA Therapy from IABA Consultants

If you have questions regarding autism treatment, education, or plans using ABA therapy, we are here for you! Our goal is to make sure no family is turned away due to financial constraints. Our therapy team would love to talk to you. Find the location closest to you and give us a call. We’re here for you.

ABA Therapy Red Flags (Part 2)

ABA Therapy Red Flags (Part 1)

ABA therapy is the only evidence-based ASD therapy, but the treatment only works if it is done with care. Not all ABA service providers are the same. How can you tell if your child’s treatment is being conducted correctly?

There are some red flags you can look for if you feel your child is not progressing or benefitting from ABA therapy. The points we are going to talk about won’t cover everything, but they will cover some of the most easily observable ABA therapy red flags. 

We have split this article into two parts, as we want to mention why these red flags can be harmful and what you can do to notice them.

Too Many Hours of Therapy

ABA therapy is a billable medical expense. Like most medically billable services, some ABA therapy providers will look to bill for as many hours as possible. Most people don’t require 40+ hours a week of ABA treatment.

Be sure to look at your child’s program and what exactly is being done from a therapy standpoint. Does the program cover everything your child needs? Are the hours reasonable for the needs of your child?

A note that some people do need a lot of therapy, just not everyone. ABA therapy is not supposed to last forever. Your child will eventually be able to live an independent life with honed social skills. Too many hours of therapy is not something that will necessarily help with ABA therapy.

No Observation or Information

One of the most important aspects of ABA therapy is continuing a program at home. If an ABA service provider refuses to share information or allow observation you may want to take a closer look at the program.

Information should always be available on how your child is progressing. Daily records should be available to parents if they want to know what is going on in treatment. If an ABA service provider is unable to share information, it may be time to take a closer look. Quick note: information and records may take a few days to be logged, each clinic is different.

If you are not allowed to visit your child’s ABA clinic to observe treatment and progress you may have a problem on your hands. Dropping by without notice is not recommended, the situations we are talking about are never being able to observe your child’s clinic & program.

Another red flag related to this is a provider only using telehealth methods (phone calls, video chats etc) for BCBA supervision. A BCBA should be directly involved in each child’s program. The only exception to this is ABA providers located in rural areas, as they may be spread very thin and have a limited number of BCBAs.

Extremely Strict Behavior Requirements

ABA therapy works to help people with ASD adapt to neurotypical social norms. Having strict requirements to not allow normal ASD behaviors may lead to issues with many people.

If a therapy program doesn’t allow things like stimming, forces social interaction, or has eye contact requirements, you may want to take a closer look. Forcing behavior changes through programs or (worse) aggressive interactions is a huge issue for any ABA therapy program.

Some behaviors and issues will need to change over time, but forcing the issue through strict programs or adherence to certain behaviors is not the way to go. Be sure to routinely check your child’s program and progress if you think any requirements of the program are too strict.

ABA Therapy from IABA Consultants

If you have questions regarding autism treatment, education, or plans using ABA therapy, we are here for you! Our goal is to make sure no family is turned away due to financial constraints. Our therapy team would love to talk to you. Find the location closest to you and give us a call. We’re here for you.

A Woman Unwilling to Bend

A Woman Unwilling to Bend

After writing to you about my career and company, last week I detoured into my wishes for my nieces’ futures. I wrote of some of my own personal hardships as a woman in business as well as as a woman leaving domestic abuse. This week I’d like to speak to you about my perspective as a woman who is unwilling to bend, and the cost and benefits.

Women in Society

Over the past year, as I have stood my sacred ground, I have witnessed both the external and internal costs of taking a stand. Externally I have navigated (and continue to navigate) cultural stereotypes. Internally I have fought and am fighting to keep the voices at bay that tell me I am being too loud; that I must become small. I’m walking through fire and slowly learning that I am in fact fireproof.

As women, we are taught from a young age to make ourselves small and to make other people comfortable. That it is somehow our gender’s job to make men comfy. And not only should we make men comfortable but we should excuse ourselves at any point in which a person around us is hurt or offended by anything we say or do.

By societal standards the perfect woman is polite, accommodating, nurturing, and apologetic. She is beautiful, slight in her waist, and ready to smile through the adversities of life. I realize in writing this you may have a gut reaction of, “I don’t expect this of other women, or myself,” but if you ask yourself, “has society taught me this or shown me this,” I assure you the answer is yes. While we do not wear the corset of the 1800’s I guarantee you each woman reading this article has tried a diet at some point in her life. We are still wearing the expectations of our gender on a large scale even if your experience isn’t as dramatic as mine.

Internal & External Perfectionism

In the book, “Brave, Not Perfect,” the author writes about the concept of perfectionism as it affects women. On a much deeper level, she recants how from infancy through college (and even well into marriage) women are taught to be perfect and polite. Soft and docile. Desirable. In her work, she writes about overcoming the need to meet society’s standards and to be brave enough to be herself. It sounds like a small thing but as a woman, I assure you it is not. As soon as you slip off “soft and docile” the crowd in the stand wakes up. I have yet to meet a woman who is boldly herself that has not pushed away these crowds and at times even gone to battle with them. What does this battle entail?

In my experience, the battle is first and always presented internally. You know you have something to say, you know injustice is happening, and you know your soul is trying to break free. Your internal self scans the external world. Unskilled in any first attempt, when a woman boldly speaks her mind, she is almost always met with judgment. Sometimes she is met with hate. The judgment could be from an external person scolding or bullying the woman for being bold or from her own internal interpretation of how the world perceives her. 

In both instances, the woman will question her own mind, her own soul, and her own desires. Was standing up, speaking out, and being herself worth the cost? The cost of losing a perceived community, relationship, place to fit in, or being ‘liked?’ In extreme cases, like domestic violence or any type of restriction of safety/liberty, the woman is hurt for speaking up.

Speaking up, unwilling to bend on who she is, the woman will learn quickly who in the world is not ready for her and who accepts her as the being she always was. The thing here is that the woman, unwilling to bend, has to accept herself as she always was. She must learn to ignore the explosions from the outside, call internal questioning a liar, and stand her sacred ground. As the wounds from the outside accumulate the woman must tend to the wounds with care and not accept the wounds as a reflection of her worth. They are battle scars from the fights.

Looking to the Future

As I wrote about my nieces I wrote with hope for a future in which no corsets (physical or mental) exist in the world. Where they are free to boldly be themselves. This goes for my three sons too. To set a future for our children when little boys and little girls are able to be who they are and one where we as parents don’t bend. We cannot accept the status quo or any type of gender stereotyping that restricts the freedom of another person. This freedom can be tiny, such as domestic division of labor, or large, such as equal representation in the legal system. We have a long way to go. But if more of us are willing to stand our ground and realize that by speaking our desires and advocating for our equality there will eventually be more people in the ring fighting for justice than the stands. 

I’ve been down here a solid year, fighting for equal representation in domestic law, I’m not tired yet. I am my children’s mama, my niece’s aunt, and I am a woman unwilling to bend. 

Xoxo,

Jessie