Tuesday, September 1, 2009

the chart

One of the most controversial things about Applied Behavior Analysis, the therapy we use with Martin, is its use of rewards. Because autistic children don't have the inclination and/or the capability of doing certain things, rewards are used to prompt them. Parents, tutors, and teachers use stickers, treats, words of praise, and whatever else to entice autistic children to do the things they've never done before, like answer a question or use the bathroom.

We have little charts all over the place. There is a general chart with 14 pieces of Velcro. Right now, we're using it at school. Martin gets to put a smiley face button on the chart every time he correctly performs circle time or hand washing or any other school task. The bottom of the chart reads, "I am working for _____." The blank has another piece of Velcro where we can attach an icon for pizza or ice cream or family movie night.

Today, we have a new chart. It has the days of the week listed. Beside each day is a blank space that can be filled in with sad faces. The chart reads, "The Martin and Sasha Chart. I get sad faces when I hit or push Sasha. If I have no sad faces, I can have Mary Poppins." I don't know about you, but I never anticipated that I would be using Velcro, making charts about hitting people, and promising old Disney movies as a vital part of parenting. It feels so strange to make a chart like this. Why haven't all the old standbys worked? We've talked and reasoned. We've given the stern lecture. We've done time-outs and taken away favorite items. We've given a spank or two. But tonight, when I put the chart in his hands, Martin finally seemed to get it. He read the words. He looked at the space beside "Tuesday" and found there were three sad faces for the times he hit Sasha earlier today. He went around the house, repeating over and over, "If I have no sad faces, I can have Mary Poppins."

You might be wondering why we don't make charts for everything. I wonder this myself after moments like tonight. But it would be impossible. Who has the Velcro and poster board and markers on hand in the grocery store when you need to keep your child from knocking over the newly displayed Halloween pumpkins? Who has supplies at the moment your kid refuses to talk to - or even acknowledge - a person they've known for years? Sometimes you just want words to work. But they don't.

If all goes well, we'll be watching Mary Poppins at 7 o'clock tomorrow night.


  1. I'm so tempted to make a 'spoonful of sugar' comment but it's too easy. Here's hoping you ARE watching Mary P tomorrow. She's been a favorite over here for 5 years. Still. They NEVER get tired of her. Why?????

  2. Well, I hope you are watching Mary Poppins.


  3. We *are* watching Mary Poppins. He did it!

  4. yeah Martin!!!! I wish cousin Toni responded to charts so well...sigh...I know it probably isn't encouraging...but Toni isn't all that nice to her sister lately either...and she doesn't get the talking either! No matter how many times I tell her that Alli is a baby and that she doesn't understand that pulling hair is mean, Toni still thinks it is ok to hit her in retaliation!