Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Beginning-It's All Mac-and-Cheese

After many years of grieving, my husband and I arrived at "Acceptance" (what we call "Reality"). The boys were getting bigger and the behaviors seemed to be increasing. We knew we had to do something, if for nothing else but survival. We determined that our overall goal was not behavior-based, but one of independence. 

We wrote our goal; We want out boys to be as happy and as independent as they can possibly be. 

As we moved forward, we kept that goal in mind in all that we did. It really helped to keep things in perspective.

The first issue we had to tackle, at the time, was school. Jake had just begun 6th grade. He was not at all motivated by school or the things that he spent his time doing. The school wanted to talk about putting him on a behavior plan. We didn't want that. We had heard that this meant that things were really based on a "consequence" system. We knew Jake well. He was the kind of kid that reacted well to reward rather than consequence. That's the direction we would move. We developed a step-by-step plan that would lay out the exact expectation, and a simple reward.

After setting up a schedule of regular weekly meetings with school staff, we set out to establish some parameters for Jake. We decided that if he could get through the day without crying, kicking or hitting, and have nice hands that a reward would be given (visual above). He loved food so we made the first day's reward a treat of macaroni and cheese (who doesn't love mac and cheese?). On day one, I showed Jake the visual at home before he went to school then slipped it into his backpack for the school staff to follow. We practiced stating the expectation, crossing off each achievement and issuing the reward for several days (it seems like weeks). Every single day for 5 days, Jake rose to the challenge and received the reward!

During the next staff meeting, we all agreed that Jake understood the concept and was doing everything expected of him. Staff did state that there was a bit of anxiety in getting to the end of the day with the reward and that Jake's patience was short. So we brainstormed what the next step should be, but needed more time to come up with concrete ideas.. 

For week number 2, I made the reward another food item that he loved.....a burrito. He met that goal without any problem! Jake seemed very proud when he brought home the visual "board" with his food reward. I made sure that he immediately received the reward in order to make the whole experience a successful one. 

Week 3: Jake was still struggling to slow down his day and participate in activities in order to get his check marks to receive his reward. The staff and I decided that we need to drag out the reward to see if Jake could have measurable improvement in participation. I suggested that the reward picture symbol be enlarged and cut into 6 pieces so he could earn a part of the reward visually with each daily activity. Everyone agreed to try it, so I went to work.

It worked! Jake happily earned a piece of mac-and-cheese or burrito after completing each task, one-by-one, day-after-day, for the next few weeks.  We were all convinced that that he had grasped the approach. Now we had to figure out the next step.

Week 6: My personal brainstorm happened after a sleepless night....I could see that there was a potential for a next and lasting step-- for Jake to learn what money was and to earn it as a reward. Up to this point, Jake did not even know what money was. 

On the very first day of the new plan, with the expectations the same, Jake earned a one-piece dollar for the entire day. We decided to revert back to the simplistic single photo in order for it there to be an immediate understanding for Jake. It worked! He brought the board home, I gave him a real dollar, we loaded into the car and drove to Taco Bell (his favorite place), he gave the lady a dollar and he received a taco! Voila! Success! He understood the concept that dollars bought things. He knew that he earned the dollar and that in itself was motivating. We continued this for 5 days straight, using only a single photo.

Week 7: Now our job was now easy. We cut the dollar into 6 pieces, he earned a piece of that dollar for each successful period during his school day, and brought it home. We had come full circle. All of the school staff agreed that Jake was more cooperative at school. We hadn't had one behavioral incident at all during this time. 

We continued this process for the rest of that school year. During that time, we decided to ask Jake what he would like for his reward ("prize"). Knowing that we could not possibly take him to Taco Bell everyday forever, I worked with Jake to come up with an end-game "prize". The first long-term goal would be 5 days of earning a dollar. We decided that in the beginning we could extent his wait time to a $5 prize, and each Friday he would get a small token prize. Jake chose anything from a VHS from my on-hand stock to a new book. After about a month, Jake was able to delay his gratification to a $10 prize all the way to a $20 prize and beyond.

As time has passed (he's 34 years old now), Jake is able to work for money, save it up and buy a specific prize. He's even been able to save $50 for a vacation to Disney World. We went to the bank and got 50 $1 bills and took them with us so that he could keep track of his money.

This was our first successful and measurable strategy many years ago. We have learned that this kind of method gives both of our boys control, and a feeling of success. In addition, it has been transferrable to the job setting where they are both motivated to earn money.

Today, the guys earn money for chores and from work which has easily transferred into an entire lesson in waiting and patience. To say we are proud of this lesson that began all the way back in Jake's 6th grade school year is an understatement. It shows that they can and do learn.

To learn more about Cindi Rogers, her sons and her book: Please click "Becoming Mrs. Rogers-Learning to Live the Fragile X Way"