Wednesday 5 June 2013

Counteracting Destructive Impulses

All behaviour has one or a combination of four goals:

1) We enjoy the sensation. (Sensory)
2) We want to avoid something. (Escape)
3) We want attention. (Attention)
4) We want a particular item, service or experience. (Tangible)

Correcting escape, attention and tangible-oriented behaviours is fairly straightforward.  Figure out which it is and then make sure the consequence doesn't follow.  Child is screaming in the store for a toy - no toy.  Child is reciting TV commercials for attention - no attention. 

Sensory is the hardest one to combat.  The action itself is inherently rewarding to the person.

Alex has a particularly challenging sensory behaviour: breaking things into tiny components so he can sprinkle the bits down in front of his eyes.  I've mentioned it before, this is what caused the demise of Ralph the Jerk.  I compare it to an alcoholic craving a binge.  He knows he shouldn't.  He knows he's going to get in trouble.  He doesn't really want the negative consequences.  But the impulse is too strong to contain.

Sadly, there is no 12 step program for autistic children with a bent for destruction.

I've tried offering him "safe" destruction targets, such as leaving him some paper in his room.  But unfortunately, all that seems to do is stimulate his appetite.  Complete avoidance of the behaviour seems like the only way to control it.

This means his supervision-free areas (his play room and bedroom) have to remain almost completely empty.  He can bring toys into them but we can't leave things there unattended, even furniture isn't safe.

Last night, we caught him starting to tunnel through a large section of his bedroom wall under his window.  Luckily, we got to him before he got all the way through the drywall.  (The health impact and clean-up challenge of bits of insulation is not a mess I want to think about.)

I probably should have taken a picture but the hole is going to require a couple of coats of spackle before it can be repainted.  Which means he's lost his room as a supervision free area for now.  And means Dave and I get to take turns monitoring him until he goes to sleep tonight.

There are only a few tactics which work with sensory-driven behaviours.  One is to introduce an incompatible behaviour (such as clapping to avoid nose-picking).  The other is to prevent the behaviour in the hopes that the impulse will fade over time.

I can't figure out what an incompatible behaviour might be to prevent this.  Which leaves flat out preventing the behaviour.  Or, in other words, minimizing damage while waiting for him to grow out of it.

Hopefully he will either grow out of the impulse or gain enough intellectual empathy to understand why destroying things is not a good idea.  I shudder to think what he might be capable of destroying as a full grown adult.  We might not be able to keep him safe at that point.  (I have visions of him breaking through walls and stripping live electrical wires.)

Here's hoping we can find a solution.  Meanwhile, I'm off to Home Depot for more spackle.

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