When we started on this autism journey tantrums were R’s main method of communication. Our ABA therapists with EI used to track data on crying, they considered crying for ten seconds or less to be a protest and crying longer was a tantrum. It was painful to read actual data about my child crying, but it was extremely educational. Living day to day it felt like she was having tantrums all the time and I was alternating between tiptoeing and tap-dancing to head off the next meltdown. Looking at the data I learned that the majority of her behaviors were actually protests. It’s funny how just thinking about a behavior in a slightly different way really changed my attitude.
Thinking about short lived crying as a protest helped me to react in a different way. Instead of inwardly worrying about how far this would escalate, I could acknowledge the behavior for what it was, a complaint. I started saying things like, “oooh and arrggh” and supplying words to describe what I thought she was protesting about.
Another thing I learned from reading the data was that I was unknowingly reinforcing her crying particularly the protests. Maybe its Mom radar but most of the time I know what she wants and it is hard not to just give it to her. Now I know that we have to get her to offer some form of communication other than crying to get what she wants. It’s a work in progress because we have to keep challenging her to get to the next level. It seems like only intuition and luck tells you when to push.
We introduced PECS at that point and it was a valuable tool to show her that she could communicate in a better way than crying. We started literally hand over hand, prompting her to give the icon for what she wanted. Now she independently gets an icon for an item she wants and brings it to one of us. Sometimes she will cry in protest over something that we don’t have an icon for. Now I’m able to try to prompt her for verbal communication. I model a word that she can say and repeat it, getting down on her level and looking her in the eyes. I make sure to pause for a few seconds, leaning forwards slightly with my mouth open and an expectant look on my face. Sometimes I get something close to the word, and almost always I’ll at least get an okay.
Now sometimes she will babble with the intonation of someone complaining. It sounds so funny. We’re also hearing words mixed in with the crying. The other morning she threw her breakfast on the floor and started crying. Then she said “So hungry! Don’t want that.” Needless to say I gave her a different breakfast option.