- Ask Why - Ask the affected person why, the answers can surprise you
- Be Proactive - Solve problems before they happen, instead of reacting after
- Flooded people can’t learn - If a person is already in limbic response (Dr. Shanker's Red Brain) or fight/flight/freeze (Dr. Shanker's Lizard Brain), it is too late to intervene.
This year, several people recommended “The Explosive Child” by Dr. Ross Greene. First, I listened to the abridged audio version of the book (only 2.5 hours long, for those in a hurry). Then, I read the more broadly applicable "Raising Human Beings". Finally, I began exploring the materials on Dr. Greene’s website, where I found a wealth of information and evidence-based practices that resonated strongly with us as a family. Shortly after I began investigating Dr. Greene's Collaborative & Proactive Solutions, I also started reading "Self-Reg" by Dr. Stuart Shanker. I am still working my way through that book, but have learned a lot about how stress affects the body and and mind, as well as managing energy flow to optimize self-regulation. Understanding the Triune brain and determining which brain is driving the behaviors I see is a huge influence on how I handle the behaviors I see.
The Shanker Method added yet another piece to the puzzle that was leading me further away from Skinner based behaviorism. All of the above mentioned resources start with the same basic premise. We need to reframe how we understand behavior. Skinner teaches us that the behavior we see is learned and ultimately manipulative in nature. That all human action is based in a strategic attempt to control the environment and its demands. A lens shift occurred for us when this behavior was reframed. The actions of an overwhelmed human aren’t manipulative, often times they aren’t even rational. Expecting someone in a flooded state to be rational or in control ignores the biological functions that rule when a person is in this type of dysregulated state. The blog post about Spoon Theory gives a really relatable framework for understanding how the extra work of illness or disability take a toll on the resources available for self-regulation.
While researching the above methodologies, I came across this article on the implementation of Dr. Greene’s method within the school setting. Which lead me to the book "Lost at School" and to Dr. Greene’s CPS Walking Tour for educators, which has a fantastic introductory video that really explores the idea that behavioral success is simply a matter of motivation. The core of Dr. Green’s methodology is based in the idea that the behaviors are actually symptoms of developmental or learning delays or disabilities, in a series of important life skills, rather than manipulative or attention seeking behaviors. The Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems (ALSUP) is the tool for identifying the lagging skills and for brainstorming the problems to solve. After having used the tool personally, I believe it would be beneficial for every educational team to fill out an ALSUP during the IEP process. In addition to the Walking Tour for Educators, here are some additional easy to consume resources to get a quick idea of how this all comes together:
- Collaborative & Proactive Overview
- The Bill of Rights for Behaviorally Challenging Kids
- The sample IEP
- Opportunity, possibility, and community
- The Presentation:
- Question 1: What is Autism? (hair dryer kid in a toaster brained world)
- Question 2: Why does Bud repeat things from TV?
- Question 3: Why does Bud say the same thing over and over?
- Question 4: Why movement breaks?
- Question 5: Why do loud noises bother Bud?
- Question 6: Why does Bud get so attached to some people?
- Question 7: How can I be a better friend?
- Question 8: Will he always be this way?
- Question 9: Does he know he’s different?
- Question 10: How can I help?
An Alternative to Motivation Based InterventionsThe base assumption of behavior based intervention is that kids will do well if they want to. Our experience with our son belies that belief. Dr. Ross Greene takes a more humanistic approach that is summarized in this quote "Challenging kids are challenging because they’re lacking the skills not to be challenging…they are delayed in the development of crucial cognitive skills, such as flexibility/ adaptability, frustration tolerance, and problem-solving." This frames the visible behaviors as symptoms of a developmental delay. We can no more expect that motivation alone will solve these issues than we’d expect motivation to lead a dyslexic child to read.
Once we accept that behaviors are a symptom of developmental delay in the aforementioned crucial skills, the lens begins to change. No more are we questioning why a child doesn’t want to behave appropriately, instead we are looking for the barrier that is preventing something they desperately want to do. This begs the question, how do we get over that barrier. How do we teach skills like Problem-Solving, Frustration tolerance, adaptability, and flexibility? Modeling is one of our best tools for teaching these skills. The entire Plan B process is a blueprint for how we want our children to interact with the world:
- When you are becoming emotionally compromised, practice self care to regain equilibrium
- When everyone is in a calm and centered state, ask the person what they are experiencing and really listen, for the purpose of truly understand their perspective, rather than to frame your reply
- Express your concerns regarding the situation, while they listen to understand your perspective in return
- Collaborate to find a solution that meets everyone’s needs.
Here is an example Plan B Conversation my son and I had after an incident in a lunchroom. In this incident, the original assumption was that my son was upset he didn’t have chips, because his routine was to get chips every day at the end of lunch:
I started with “I heard you had trouble leaving the lunch room on Friday, what’s up?”
He replied “I wanted chips and lunch time was over”.
I replied “You wanted chips and lunch time was over, anything else”?
He said “She just kept ignoring me”.
I said “She kept ignoring you, anything more to tell”?
He said “No, it just really made me mad to be ignored”
I said, “You wanted chips when lunchtime was over, and it made you mad when she ignored you when you told her that”.
He said “yes”.
I said “anything else you want to tell me about that?”
He said “No”.
I then shifted into the adult concerns portion, I said “my concern here is that an hour long reaction to being ignored isn’t actually going to get you heard, do you think she knew she was ignoring you and the information you had to provide”?
He said “I don’t know”.
I asked “What do you think you could try next time you are feeling ignored”.
He said “I can tell them to stop ignoring me”.
I said “Let’s try that and see how it works”.
This was one of our first Plan B conversations (I wrote it up to send to his teacher). The biggest take-away here for me, is the base assumption upon which my son's teachers acted was fundamentally flawed. They lectured him on alternate ways to get food from someone without yelling, but the real problem was something different. If we don't ask the person with the problem "why" there are pretty good odds that we'll be solving the wrong problem.
At home, we support the plan when we see the problem arise. If it doesn’t work, we wait until we are calm, we talk about it some more and we modify the plan. We’re having trouble finding footing on how to create and implement plans for school, but we are working on it. This blog post actually originated as a 9 page document I sent to the school in order to help them help my son. I've (hopefully) removed all the identifying characteristics and personal information. If anyone sees something, drop me a line.
Stephen Covey wrote “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” We’re working hard to build a habit of listening to understand. It is a difficult shift to make, after the habits of a lifetime, but I think it is well worth it.