Simple Behavior Modification Exercises I Do At Home With My Autistic Child
Given what I knew of Zachary's inability to integrate the parts in his world into the whole, his inability to understand the whole without first understanding all the parts within it, there were several exercises I came up with for Zachary. At the time I had originally come up with these, I thought Zachary's problem had to do primarily with an almost fanatic need for order. A few months later, I came to the realization that Zachary's problems were, more specifically, with a subset of the ordering function - the processing of partialities or parts to the whole!
In doing all exercises, I found it was critical to "put things away" for a few days and then take them out again...that helped me gauge Zachary's progress because I could see if his frustration levels were the same or had decreased when the exercises were "used again" after a while "away from them".
The idea behind all these exercises was simply to help Zachary cope with partiality and the realization that things are not perfect and that somehow, he had to be able to adapt to that. I wanted Zachary to be able to allow for the "in between" situations, or the "non-ordinary", for him to see that although there was a need for "order" in life, not all things had to be "perfectly ordered".
The fact that I could literally turn Zachary's frustrations "on and off like a switch" told me I was on the right track.
Also, in doing these exercises with Zachary, I saw that they involve "real work and effort" on his part as he was very tired after we do these things... and that was normal. Having studied psychology through graduate school, I knew that "therapy" was often hard and exhausting work for the person going through it. As such, I was careful to gauge "when he has had enough" and allowed for "breaks". I found that when I stop "working with him", Zachary immediately wanted an "order fix" as I came to call it.
The difficult part for me was to control "order fixes" as much as possible so that he could get the stress relief he needed yet I had to make sure that, as much as possible, his "order fixes" were either very short or involved more "productive" activities. Ideally, I wanted the need for an "order fix" to be "satiated" by everyday things that did require order, like putting away toys, working on the computer on educational software, watching an educational video, etc. as opposed to allowing the "order fix" to be one such as "spinning". Zachary had to learn that it is ok to have some order, but that satiating his need for order had come from "appropriate" tasks that required order, not from engaging in meaningless activities. I say "meaningless" here only in the sense that activities such as "spinning" do nothing to teach Zachary anything... although I am well aware of their "stress relieving potential" for the autistic child (and as such, at times, these activities, although meaningless in what they teach, can be used as valuable coping tools when life simply gets to be too much!).
I found that after time away from these exercises, when they were "picked up again", Zachary did experience renewed frustration, but the level of that frustration had often been significantly reduced in terms of intensity or actual time it lasted. As such, I knew these exercises were helping him learn to cope with issues of partiality. In general, it did not take much time to "regain" lost ground due to the simple lapse of time. Fact was... I knew Zachary needed a break too... and a "break from things" was the best way for me to see whether or not what I was doing worked.