Monday, June 8, 2015

Supporting your child's interests! ALWAYS.

It is ALWAYS unethical to take away someone's interests, hobbies, favorite pastimes, favorite toys, or most enjoyed activity.  

teens exploring cosplay - one of the goals of parenting, teaching, and ABA

And if you as a parent want your kids to work with you, then you must support and help them do the things and activities they want.

And if you are doing special ed, therapy, or ABA, then you ethically should be working with your client, not punishing them.

Over at Real Social Skills, an awesome blog by an autistic adult writing on multiple issues from neurodiversity to the very important issue of resisting abuse, the blog author wrote this post on the aftermath of using a person's interests in ABA.

It is a super important post, because I see this type of ABA all the time since I am still in supervision.  ABA therapists (as well as special ed teachers and developmental specialists) remove something a kid or teen on the spectrum loves, in order to get "compliance" (a term I will NEVER use).  Little kids usually scream and teens usually retreat into monosyllabic depression with this treatment, and you would think that therapists who want to help people would frigging notice!  I saw this in a school lately, where the ABA therapist AND the special education aide removed a teen's dinosaur toy to get him to touch his nose (so stupid) and to say a word that he didn't care about anyway.

In another horrendous example, I had to go to my supervisor's supervisor at my first internship, and to point out that my supervisor's plan to take away one child's favorite pastime was unethical.  My supervisor wanted to stop a little 8 year old boy with intellectual disabilities from throwing, which happened to be his favorite thing.  Thankfully my supervisor had to change her plan.

So Real Social Skills is making an important point and parents with kids getting ABA services or in any special ed. need to hear.

I responded to this post, however, because I am an ABA therapist and I "use" kids' and teens' interests all the time.  But NEVER FOR COMPLIANCE.  I personally don't want compliant people, and thinking parents don't want compliant kids.  All of the parents who work with me want HAPPY KIDS.  And supporting a child's interests helps them be happy!

So how do you support a child in a pro-freedom way while incorporating behavioral principles?  

Well, a good teacher does this all the time.  My kids' piano teacher, for example, always let them choose music they wanted to play in lessons (lots of Barney, Harry Potter, Katie Perry, and Pirates of the Caribbean music....)  That is how to use your child's interests.  Likewise, when I work with teens who are dealing with depression, usually bored at school, and with parents who are frightened of their video game interests (thanks to the media, schools, and mental health "experts."), the fastest way to get a teen up and doing things is to let him or her choose things they wanna do and then help them do them!

So in the past six months I have helped teens get swim lessons, get homeschool education (nothing lowers teen depression like getting out of punitive schools who refuse to implement the IEP's that parents fight so hard to get!), learn cooking, start photography and pottery classes, sign up for gym programs, and am currently working to get one of my clients into a gun safety class so he can get his first BB gun.  For the little ones, I constantly show parents fun stuff for their kids to do - from shaving cream to paint to play dough to just getting outside and walking.  All of these activities are ways for kids to interact with the world - which is all of our best teacher - and to learn real social skills out with real people doing stuff that the kids choose.

When you as a parent or a therapist actually work hard to support a kid's interests, then you can also build skills that are harder to teach.  With little ones who won't put down their favorite Frozen book, or the preschooler who screams when asked to put down an iPad, or for teens who won't eat because of video game play, the goal is NEVER to take the loved activity away.  However, I do ask little kids and teens to take breaks - for a two year old that break should not be longer than about 10 seconds, btw.  What I encourage parents to teach is that they may ask their child for a break - but that the preferred item or activity always comes back.  If you take things from kids all the time, they won't trust you, they won't have an established relationship that you are supporting them, and they can't learn important skills like "I can put something down for a few minutes, but my parents support my interests and it will be here when I come back."  Don't you as a parent or teacher want to teach that kind of trust?

So my advice to parents is to bend over backwards to support your kids' activities and goals.  In fact, I encourage parents to join in as much as possible.  Good parenting, teaching and ABA should help kids learn to be who they choose to be.  


preschooler exploring the world - the goal of good parenting, teaching, and ABA

photos:  copyright the author

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