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Behavioral Issues -- Where To Start?

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    Behavioral Issues -- Where To Start?

    My oldest, Winston, will be 7 on St Patrick's Day. This is the first year he has been aware of his birthday, how old he is (and how old he is going to be), and has expressed excitement about the upcoming event. He ha already decided that he would like to ride with his Daddy in "the blue car" (Daddy's sedan -- a special treat as we are typically in Mommy's van) to see the James River; he would like cheeseburgers, french fries and soda; and he would like to come home and have birthday cake, maybe ice cream. Gifts are an afterthought. We count the days until his birthday every day as we do school or change clothes or transition from one activity to another. He is SO EXCITED. What he doesn't know is that Daddy is taking the entire day off work and that they are going to ride an Amtrak train into Washington DC for the day. On their return home, his siblings and I will have decorated the kitchen for his birthday and will have everything ready. Winston LOVES trains; anything to do with trains; anything that looks, smells, behaves or rolls like a train. He is a train and train track junkie. He's gonna burst with happiness.

    As is the case sometimes with Winston, though, he is lately exhibiting some anxiety. This could be for a number of reasons. Daddy has been traveling with work lately; we have been snowed in for about two months with Spring having just emerged; the time changed for Daylight Savings; he is much more aware of his world now -- a wonderful thing, to be sure, but perhaps a daunting one for a child who doesn't understand cause-and-effect and how proecesses work together... Nothing major. But for a child who likes challenge, adventure, but a high level of control, this can sometimes be overwhelming. I have also read that 7 is the age where many children start to become stressed as their brains start to mature a little more and they begin to understand danger and larger concepts like natural disasters and loss. We could spend all day trying to get to the root of the problem, but the main point is this -- Winston is weepy, whiny, much less cooperative, and wants to watch TV, "stim" with favored objects (blocks, which he could examine and manipulate for hours alone in his room) or ride in the car endlessly. He doesn't want to be here and he doesn't want to do "normal" things.

    Since the weather changed we have gone on two nice, long, walking trips by the River; we have been to the zoo (twice); have "done school" pretty regularly (which is a great confidence booster and regulator); and he has gone on outings with Daddy for "special time". We did this on purpose to see if it would help his attitude. He enjoys himself immensely, but it is never "enough". By the time we get into the car, he might be exhausted, but he doesn't want to go home. And when we get home, he wants to go back out somehwere else. His routine has not changed significantly, other than the time change, and we have been consistent with discipline and boundaries. He needs more hugs, more reassurance and more attention.

    And he's driving me a little crazy with pointless talking. It's not productive speech, it's just yak-yak-yak-yak-yak about nothing and everything. He mutters, he grunts, he is always vocalizing. It's ironic that he has this issue since he didn't speak until he was 5, but he needs to internalize that there is a time to speak and a time to be quiet. Non-productive jabbering in order to hear his own voice is disruptive and unacceptable to eveyone else in the house. Again, I think this is a blend of not understanding social rules and wanting attention, for whatever reason. Every time I am on the phone or Daddy and I are talking and he talks over us or interrupts, he is asked, "Is Mommy on the phone?" or "Are Mommy and Daddy talking?". He answers yes, and we lut a finger up to our lips to let him know, "Shhh..." He imitates, "Shhhh..." but he usually has to be reminded (repeatedly). It is possible as well, that he might want to "have a conversation" but cannot engage in one fully since his receptive and expressive language are both so immature...

    Here is where I need help. Winston loves the calendar. We use a business desk calendar for school (the huge ones that go on a secretary's desk, for example) and he loves the weekly calendar with all the events on it that I fill out every week. It is on the side of our fridge. I read in "Simply Classical" about behavioral issues being alleviated by calendars, checklists and the like and would like to see if that will help him, but I don't want to go crazy doing them all at once (since I would have to create them and integrate them all into our day -- yikes). Which checklist, chore sheet, step-by-step visual cue, etc. would be most useful to start with first? Second? Third? And are there any other coping strategies you might suggest? Fresh air, sunshine, fewer outside demands, more hugs and some "tough love" along with less TV are already in the "therapy plan"

    Thanks so much!
    Boy Wonder: 10, MP2/SC4 (Special Needs)
    Joy Bubble: 8, MP2 (Special Needs)
    Snuggly Cowboy: 6, MPK
    Sweet Lightness: 2, Reverse-Engineering Specialist

    “Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is very, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence.”
    ~Pope St John Paul II

    Hi, Anita.

    You provided enough information to create a one-hour seminar!

    Here are a few thoughts that might help -

    What We Have Learned About Winston
    Over the past months, you have described your son as
    -newly verbal
    -appreciative of predictability
    -"polite by rote"
    -nicely regulated by (and engaged with) routine, structured learning (e.g., recitations)

    Based on these descriptors, Winston may be ready for Social Stories! Have you tried these?

    As described in Simply Classical (Behavior sections), we found homemade Social Stories very effective. We made our Social Stories from construction paper bindings around white paper. They included these:
    -refraining from interrupting (entitled Shhhh...)
    -leaving the cat alone when she sleeps (All About Cats)
    -asking our friends what they would like to do, rather than telling our friends what to do (Ask, Don't Tell), and many more.

    In our house, we still reference one particularly memorable story about being flexible-and-agreeable, because even today no one wants to be seen as the story's caricatured "One-Way Wanda!"

    What Are Social Stories?
    You can make Social Stories for any occasion and any behavior. They instantly replace nagging/scolding/accusing with coaching/understanding/learning. They can be read over and over, so manners and social skills can be learned through repetition. The developer, Carol Gray, seems to be creating a new website which is not yet available. However, currently you can find her new Social Story book on Amazon. You can also find a very good 2000 edition on AbeBooks for about half the price. (This is the edition we used.) Just search "Carol Gray Social Stories" either place or wherever you would like.

    Briefly, the instructions flow something like this:

    -Create small stories from the child's perspective.
    -Focus on only one behavior per story.
    -Write all sentences to help him "see" the situation differently (e.g., help develop "theory of mind").
    -Use 3-5 describing sentences, as if written in his voice.
    -Use only 1-2 perspective sentences (helping him see the view of others) and directive sentences (telling him what to do) for every 3-5 descriptive sentences.

    You could place one sentence on each page and bind as a little book.

    Here is an example for Winston's interrupting. I'll write this from a Christian perspective, because this is often omitted from Social Stories. Yet this is how we wrote many of our social stories, and I know this is how you teach your son:

    "All About My Voice"
    When I was younger, I did not speak. (descriptive)
    Mommy is very happy that I am talking now. (descriptive)
    Now I have words to say what I am thinking! (descriptive)
    God gave me words to say. (descriptive)
    My voice is a gift. (descriptive)

    Sometimes I can use my voice freely. Other times I must be quiet. (descriptive)
    When Mommy and Daddy are talking, it is time for me to be quiet. (directive)
    When someone is on the telephone, it is time for me to be quiet. (directive)

    When I practice being quiet at the right time, I help our family. (perspective)
    I am still learning when to use my voice. (descriptive)
    My Mommy and Daddy love me. They will help me learn how to use my gift from God. (descriptive/reassuring)

    You can draw a picture on each page to help him visualize what you are saying. The illustrations do not need to be fancy. Any related picture seems to help. (I drew Mommy, Daddy, Michael, & Michelle stick figures on ours.)

    When you become practiced, you can write several of these stories in an evening. You will not need many. Just target the key behaviors for now.

    You might consider writing a story on Special Occasions. Even though this might be too late for the birthday tomorrow, you may witness similar excitement before other special days. We certainly do here! In our house, my "Special Occasions" reminders now are merely verbal. They include, "Today is a work day. Tomorrow will be fun and special. We're excited about tomorrow. But today we must work. Let's focus on what we will accomplish today. Here is our schedule for today...."

    When my children were younger, homemade Social Story books were invaluable. They can be tailored to any child's situation.

    Calendars & Other Visual Cues

    Daily Schedule
    Because Winston enjoys calendars, he may also appreciate a daily schedule. Each night, you can take a few minutes to write a schedule on an easel or a white board. Use your first moments in the morning to overview this with him. Such an overview may be sufficient to ease undue discomfort or subdue unbridled excitement. My son finds this overview reassuring even today.

    Red/Green Cues
    We found Red/Green helpful for our impulsive speaker, my son, whom Michelle still affectionately calls our "Chatterbox." When he was younger, I placed a Red Stop Sign by each activity on the day's schedule for which he was to be quiet. I then placed a Green Go Light by two or three time periods in which I would listen to him for 10 minutes. Of course I allowed him to speak whenever he was called upon in our read-alouds & schoolwork. The Red/Green applied only to his unsolicited, unrelated comments. I had to explain this initially.

    We also found tokens helpful. I issued him a set number of tokens at the beginning of each morning, then again in the afternoon. He had to ration his "talking tokens." We used this discipline far longer than the Red/Green Cues. The tangible reminders of tokens helped tame his blurting.

    Even today in our small adult Bible class, if he seems to be in an overly excited or impulsive state, I'll whisper ahead of time, "You may speak only twice." Having a set number helps him curb his impulse to speak (which would otherwise dominate the class in a very uncomfortable way). The tokens during his school days helped him learn and practice self-control as a young adult.

    His supervisor at the history museum has employed a similar technique on an age-appropriate scale. She tells him, "When you give a tour, speak two sentences. Then pause. See if people have questions or comments. Then continue."

    Time Change
    The time change and the onset of spring always creates a little "hyper" activity here, even sometimes hypomania. We want to explode into the sunshine but find that we must rein in such desires a little bit for everyone's sakes. Similarly, you might want to resist the impulse to do many long-day outings. Sometimes less is more. A local friend takes regular twice-daily brief walks with her son (with autism) during their homeschool day. This works much better for him than big, exciting outings. Not only would he never satiate on exciting excursions, but the disruption and ensuing meltdowns become more than either of them can comfortably bear.

    With Level 1, you might incorporate a planned morning walk to expel wiggles and an afternoon walk for My Nature Journal. This routine may give him the fresh air and exercise without over-stressing his mind or emotions.

    Unsteady Emotions
    If, after implementing some of these interventions, you still perceive some instability, you might consider an evaluation. Someone "in person" will be able to assess his needs with greater accuracy to determine whether they might warrant medical intervention or additional therapies.

    I hope some of this helps. Let us know how he enjoys his Train Birthday. Your Winston reminds me of my son at that age. With a train border around his room and a Thomas blanket on his bed, the Museum of Transportation was my son's favorite field-trip destination!

    Be ready on Wednesday with some rest and a gentle routine.


    Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child
    Cheryl Swope, M.Ed., with foreword by Dr. Gene Edward Veith
    Memoria Press, 2013.


      It won't let me post more than one emoticon and I can't seem to find one for laughing/crying/relief/joy/appreciation/happiness (what would that look like anyway?), so can I just humbly say THANK YOU in all caps?

      Social stories: such a brilliant idea. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. I know you didn't think of it, you're just passing it along. But I so appreciate a mom who's "been there" and can give advice from a Christian perspective for my Boy woth special needs. More in-depth response later. For now -- much, much appreciation and long-distance HUGGGGGGGG.

      BLESS YOU.
      Boy Wonder: 10, MP2/SC4 (Special Needs)
      Joy Bubble: 8, MP2 (Special Needs)
      Snuggly Cowboy: 6, MPK
      Sweet Lightness: 2, Reverse-Engineering Specialist

      “Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is very, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence.”
      ~Pope St John Paul II


        Okay -- a little time (before dinner prep and general clean-up starts) to respond:

        Visual schedule/calendar:
        We already have a weekly dry erase calendar on the side of the fridge (Wall Pops, peel and replace from Amazon for anyone who is interested -- item WPE98895). It is FANTASTIC. Will cling to a wall, fridge, door, window. Easily erasable, easily moved and re-hung; no magnets, no glue. This has helped tremendously with learning "calendar time" and for him to see what's coming. I also get to be creative drawing birthday cake pictures for each child's birthday or religious drawings for Ash Wednesday, etc. Today, I took your cue and wrote out what we were doing line by line so he could see what was coming and so we could review and check off what was accomplished. It was a nice reminder to him to see that we have done some enjoyable things so he is not anxious in the moment. This came in handy today as he was particularly anxious this morning -- school time was uprooted by a trip to the accountant's office downtown; not a place we have been before, underground parking, tiny cramped office = yikes. But since I wrote "see James" (Winston's river!) he remembered that we had crossed the river -- twice! -- and was happy when I pointed it out on the calendar instead of emotional that we were back home having "no fun". I even listed items we had for lunch!

        I don't think it will take too much extra time or effort to put a red or green bullet beside items that he is to listen through or be quiet with. This will come in VERY handy for school time as he is resistant to listening to stories or explanantions since verbal comprehension is so challenging for him. He thinks if he just talks over me it will be over faster and he's off the hook. (No way, kid!) I also read a post by a Special Educator about using a little hand held stop sign. When you are reading aloud or giving instructions and the student needlessly interrupts, just hold up the stop sign without pausing. For children with language difficulties, it is much easier than explaning what to do (which is just more verbal information that can "jam the gears" of an already taxed mind).

        We did a token system about two years ago for behavior. It was before he could really understand how that worked and so was not as effective as we had hoped. Perhaps it is time to revisit that. However, I think a system on dry erase might work better than the elaborate system we had used previously. I have a behavior and chore chart print-out that I laminated that might work well.

        Rules such as "speak two sentences and then pause" are genius. Once he knows what a "sentence" is, we will certainly use that one! For right now I think couching it in terms of "turn-taking" might work.

        Yes -- I find that since Winston is getting older, more aware, more verbal and more mature he is less able to bounce back after long outings. When he was younger, we would just come home and have a nap and then be ready to go again. We were not doing school then, he did not have younger siblings who were mobile and fun to play with, and he did not have responsibilites like self-care and self-regulation on the scale he does now. He still has "quiet time" every day to decompress and even though he just turned seven, he still sometimes needs a nap during the day because he is just exhausted by the amount of work it takes to process the information in his world. I can tell a difference when he is allowed limited play (in the yard for an hour or so) versus a long train-ride for his birthday (he did wonderfully and enjoyed himself immensely, but today has been tempestuous). We keep a pretty regular scheudule because that's just our family style, so he is used to predictability. Taking it up a step will be helpful.

        Social Stories:
        Oh boy, did this come at a good time! Next week is his first visit to the doctor in awhile. My kids are healthy as horses and never have to go to the pediatrician, but they need their booster shots. About a week later, we are all going to the dentist. (Pray a fat prayer for us!) So making "going to the dentist" and "going to the doctor" stories are on the TOP of my list.

        WHEW! Taking a breath and gearing up for dinner. Thanks again!
        Boy Wonder: 10, MP2/SC4 (Special Needs)
        Joy Bubble: 8, MP2 (Special Needs)
        Snuggly Cowboy: 6, MPK
        Sweet Lightness: 2, Reverse-Engineering Specialist

        “Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is very, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence.”
        ~Pope St John Paul II


          Visual Schedule, Red and Green Bullet-Points

          Just a quick follow-up:
          Today got off to a rocky start. Winston was pleasant upon awakening... BUT... DID NOT WANT TO DO SCHOOL. Out came the white board with a list of everything that was in the day's Lesson Plan with a red, green or red/green bullet-point beside each item (thank goodness for multicolored dry erase!). Quick explanation of what red and green meant, and we were off! Every item that we accomplished, we crossed off the list. Suddenly, Winston was cooperative! And he listened better because he could see that a "green bulllet" was either present or was coming up. I also let him choose tasks towards the end of our session as he fatigued and his attention began to wander. He could clearly see that we had more ground to cover and that school was not over yet (which stopped the whining) and my asking him to choose gave him a bit of control. All in all a much better day than it might have been! Thank you again

          ....Now to get started on those social stories....
          Boy Wonder: 10, MP2/SC4 (Special Needs)
          Joy Bubble: 8, MP2 (Special Needs)
          Snuggly Cowboy: 6, MPK
          Sweet Lightness: 2, Reverse-Engineering Specialist

          “Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is very, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence.”
          ~Pope St John Paul II