The meeting was a success! There, I saved you some suspense. Now, let’s take a look at what made the meeting a success.
Unlike a typical IEP meeting, we didn’t spend a lot of time going over what we knew. We met, conversed cordially until everyone got there, and then dug right into the new data. The school psychologist was the one to collect the new data. I worked with a different psychologist with Willy, but this was someone new, someone not familiar with Alex and his interactions.
The pinching that she observed was consistent with the normal behaviors we’d seen before. In other words, Alex didn’t attack anyone, which is what he’d done to start this process. So, for the first part of the meeting we concentrated on strategies to address these typical behaviors with the hope of extinguishing them.
In other words, we followed the data we had and came up with solutions using that data to:
- Determine the additional data we needed.
- Use what we currently knew to re-address our strategies.
After listening to the input from a variety of the specialists present at the meeting, a new approach became clear in my mind:
- We know that Alex engages in pinching at times of apparent disorder.
- We know that Alex tends to target certain individuals and we speculate that this targeting is due to the specific, predictable responses he receives.
- We also know that Alex needs copious amounts of positive sensory stimulation to stay regulated and that Alex responds negatively to normal classroom sensory stimulation (different sensory stimuli in each case).
- We know that Alex now receives positive sensory stimulation in response to pinching and we speculate that this has reinforced the pinching behavior.
From this, we concluded that Alex craves more predictability than he is currently being provided with and that we could provide this predictability by increasing the structure in his school day. We also recognized that Alex’s attention span doesn’t last a full hour, so the structure we add needs to be a shorter cycle than the typical way the school segments time. We also wanted to provide Alex with more consistency, sufficient positive sensory stimulation, modeling of appropriate behaviors, and opportunities to improve his communication skills.
A two-fold approach resulted from these conclusions:
- We would create a repeating cycle of predictable events that Alex can rely on. The cycle will be flexible, both progressively and functionally. This means that the same cycle will be used throughout the day, regardless of what the academic or therapeutic expectations are. It also means that the cycle will expand and contract according to Alex’s needs. For example, he’ll have shorter periods of sensory stimulation and longer periods of academic work as needed.
- Staff schedules will be managed to provide Alex with consistent adult support, so that the same people will be made available to Alex from day to day.
These two approaches answered the question, “How are we going to provide what Alex needs while we shape the behaviors we want to see.”
These conclusions updated the behavioral intervention plan that we had been using to better meet Alex’s current needs. There was a celebratory atmosphere for a moment. We were confident and enthusiastic about our new solutions. But it seemed premature to me. We still needed a third component to break the current pattern, and we needed it to be something that could address the more extreme situations, should they reoccur, like the one that made this meeting so urgent.
The vice principal had been silent throughout the meeting. He was there as an authority of the school’s and he hadn’t contributed yet. It was at this moment, when we had determined two of the three components I felt were necessary, that he spoke up to remind everyone why we were here. His voice was like a dash of cold water on the team.
I wish I could quote him, because he spoke very well. He approved of our strategies, but reminded us that Alex lived in a larger environment that included people who would not be as understanding or appreciative of Alex’s unique needs. After the severity of the last incident and previous relatively minor incidents where Alex sought out strangers to pinch, his concern was that there could be potential blow-back and that the school had to demonstrate a level of responsiveness to this aggressive behavior that had not yet been addressed.
In short, he was the authority person reminding us of the big picture. At the same time, he asserted himself as a member of the team, as well, by reinforcing that he, personally, was sympathetic and appreciative of Alex. He also said something that suggested he is also the parent of a child with autism. The cumulative result was that, while he was supportive of the work we’d just done, he has a responsibility to ensure the safety and welfare of those Alex might hurt.
I respected his approach. He handled the situation well and successfully got us on a track that made it possible to address the serious concern that brought us to this meeting, even though we didn’t have any new data to use. Everyone seemed somewhat at a loss on how to go from here. Alex doesn’t really respond to traditional disciplinary action. Nobody really wanted the consequence to be Alex being sent home, both because it’s ineffective as a consequence (more of a reward than a punishment) and because it deprives Alex of school time for something he really doesn’t (to our knowledge) understand.
It was a difficult situation. It took me a while to express what I was thinking. As parents, we’d tried so many different discipline techniques and nothing had worked. Well, almost nothing. The one thing that had worked wasn’t something we really used on a regular basis. I tried it awhile back. It wasn’t planned. It was simply necessary. Occasionally, I would use it again when the situation warranted. Attacking someone for no apparent reason we could recognize seemed to warrant it.
Alex likes cars, especially when they are moving. When he was younger, he would walk out into the street to take a closer look if we didn’t catch him first. One time, I got to him just short of the street, took him back to the porch, and sat him down on our steps. With “hard hands,” I put his arms down and made him sit, watching the cars from the safety of the porch. It wasn’t so much a form of restraint as it was firm, authoritative physical contact. When he tried to get up, I said, “No. Stop. Danger.” Short, simple words that I knew he could understand. My face was stern. My voice was firm. It was the closest thing to discipline that ever worked with Alex. And I described it to them in as much detail as I could.
Together, we discussed ways to implement this technique in the classroom. What it would look like (like a time-out within the environment), what Alex’s response would be (yes, he would get angry), and what the result would be (Alex would calm down and would recognize that he had been stopped). We spent time discussing how it would work and recognized that it could be implemented right away.
We had the third and final component. That, along with increased data collection, will prepare us to meet again at the end of this month for his IEP. We’ll see how these strategies are working and we will fine-tune them with the new data we’re collecting. We’re optimistic.