Just a little nuts

Just a little nuts
A blog about single parenting & autism

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Rewards a double edged sword

While Little Squirrel responds well to a reward system, the school is learning that it can backfire when she becomes obsessed with earning the reward, and hysterical about not getting the reward.

At one of her preschools last year they used a system of "green, yellow, red" - a visual stop light made out of pie tins with student's names clipped on the edges with clothes pins. Bad behavior resulted in having your clothespin moved to yellow as a warning and then to red if continued. Being on red meant you lost 15 minutes of free play.

Little Squirrel HATED being on red and even the thought of it. She was only on red one time and that was enough. It was enough of a reinforcement to keep her line throughout the year without raising her anxiety too much.

At her kindergarten this year, she is at a school that uses a system of tickets for "getting caught being good." A student gets a ticket (like a fair ticket) for doing something "responsible, safe or respectful" and the ticket goes into a bucket and names are drawn at the end of the day. The drawn names receive a small prize.

This system seems all fine and good, but for Little Squirrel it throws in an extra level of anxiety over "NOT getting something" or "losing" or "being left out." She talks of the tickets often at home and I have noticed the reward system is the basis for some meltdowns at school.

A recent incident involved Little Squirrel grabbing a book from another student, which I believe she did on impulse because she was in one of "those moods," and the book ripped, which led to a massive meltdown.

The teacher sat down with her and drew a story about what happened and sent it home in her backpack.

I talked with Little Squirrel about it and based on her responses was able to determine the meltdown wasn't over the book being ripped, but anxiety at the realization she was in trouble and being in trouble meant a time out and WORSE: no ticket for the day. That seemed pretty obvious to me.

Her teacher had a surprising response to my email, assuring me there was no time out involved and that the tickets weren't involved either. In the teacher's mind, since a time out or withholding of ticket did not materialize, that could not be what Little Squirrel was freaking out about. But in Little Squirrel's mind, nothing had to materialize--the deep anxiety and fear connections were enough. People with an autism disorder can often connect anxiety or fear to objects or events in indirect ways.

I was a little disappointed the teacher didn't seem to understand this because she is a veteran kindergarten teacher (she's like a drill sergeant, lion tamer, orchestra conductor combined), but the woman does an excellent job with a huge class of 5 year olds, I would never criticize her. I just have to remember the quirks of the autism spectrum aren't as obvious to everyone, and I can't expect anyone but me to understand how autism looks on Little Squirrel.

I'm reading a great book about anxiety in autism, called "Managing Anxiety in People with Autism" by Anne M. Chalfant,, Psy.D. Little Squirrel is like a case study for this book. A post about this book to come later.

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