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Working with Your Special Needs Child
Listed below are concerns from parents of special needs children:

1. Do children with special needs have the same understanding of cause and effect, reward and punishment, as other children?

The fact is that this is not an issue. No matter what type of living being you are we all have an interest in reward versus punishment to some level. Think about the bottom of the food chain such as a cockroach. Cockroaches despise the light and live to move around in the dark hours of the night. They associate good feelings with dark and bad feelings with light. They might not think about it, but rather just feel it based on experience and instinct.

Turn on the lights and the roach goes scuttling for darkness. In a very basic sense, light = punishment and darkness = reward. The behavior of escaping from light to dark is rewarded, and so is repeated.

Roaches don't have a memory and can't be instructed like we can. Canines can be instructed because they have a wonderful memory. They know, for example, if they hear the word "stay" they will stay in place in order to receive a treat or reward.

The higher you go up on the food chain, the better their memory can be. Interest in time and the improvement of analytical skills appears. When these attributes increase, you need to vary the intensity of the rewards and punishments to have any effect.

What reward and punishments should you dole out? Simple. Try first by experimenting with different rewards and punishments based on your own experience. Have a plan of rewards and punishments that will affect your child's behavior. Make sure that you are consistent. If their behavior changes then you have accomplished your goal. If it does not then take these two things into consideration:

a) your rewards and punishments systems did not have big enough meaning in your child's life or

b) your child could not build a bridge between the behavior and the reward or punishment. If you wait too long to respond to a behavior then your reward or punishment may have little or no meaning. This is most often see when dealing with younger children.

So, when you see that your system is not working. You step back, have a think about it, modify it, and then try again. Ultimately you will either succeed in changing the behavior, or you won't. Which leads to the second question:

You have tried all of the things you can think of and your child's behavior hasn't budged. What do you do? For example, let's say your child had PDD. You are required to complete a few hours of physical therapy with your child easy day. However, your child doesn't want to do the physical therapy.

Richard has read the book. He has experimented with just about every reward, punishment, incentive scheme he can think of. He has tried to make the therapy more exciting and fun. But despite all of these efforts, half the time the therapy just does not get done.

What can you do to fix this? You have two options including:

a. You could become all bent out of shape about it. You get mad at yourself for your apparent failure. You feel like you are no service to your child. You want to find the magic cure that will help your child do his physical therapy.

b. You stop and look at your situation. You take a deep breath and look at things realistically and logically. You are okay with the fact that half the time the physical therapy session may not happen, but this is still an improvement from how much physical therapy your child was accomplishing last year.

Which option, (a.) or (b.), will yield a better result?

The downfall fo (a.) is that your stress level will sky rocket which affects everyone negatively. You are not having a fun time and your results won't improve this way.

Sometimes you just have to understand the fact that your child may never be fully motivated to complete the physical therapy. It's sad, but true. It is better to work with what you have then cry about not achieving perfection.

Is it not better to dial back the expectations and the striving, and aim to achieve the best that you can GIVEN THE LIMITATIONS YOU FIND YOURSELF UNDER? And, surprisingly, often when the stress is relieved, and the fun returns, then performance improves. But even if it doesn't, which would you rather have: a) 50% performance and everyone is miserable or, b) 50% performance and everyone is happy?

The important thing to remember is to not try to compete to an unrealistic level. Strive to achieve the small successes and accept that things might never totally be the way you want them to be.


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Read more of Dr. Noel Swanson's excellent free parenting articles on his website. Make sure you also subscribe to his free newsletter: www.good-child-guide.com



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