Slaying Thought Disorder

| by Val

Since many parents become behavior experts due to their affected child's challenges, they become familiar with more professional terms that are related to contributing to more favorable behavioral presentation for those within the spectrum.

Early on in my daughter's journey, I learned about ignore and redirect. I later learned of a grander term, coined under more formal circumstances - when the ignore and redirect method is partaken under the auspice of expert care in ABA types of teaching; ignore and redirect - became pivotal response. ABA is not one singular method, and is actually a program comprised of many differing methods. A long-time mentor of mine once gave a really wonderful overview of the grander scheme whereby behavior manipulations might turn out a more functional pattern of life experience. Here is some of the explanation...

In-home report: The behavioral intervention home program that Sarah was involved in was one of behavior modification based on operant conditioning theory. This type of programming is also known as ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) or discrete trial training. When behavior modification is used with children with autism, the child’s behaviors are divided into deficits and excesses. Skills which are deficient are taught and behaviors that are excessive are decreased. Each skill to be taught is broken down into its most simple individual components. The child is then prompted to exhibit the desired simple skills and rewarded for success. Prompts may be used initially to elicit the behavior then are gradually removed so that the child is able to demonstrate independent performance of the behavior. As a result, the behavior is strengthened and gradually acquired. Once individual components of the behavior have been acquired, each component is chained together to produce behaviors which are more complex and functional. As new behaviors are learned, inappropriate behaviors are not rewarded. As a result, these inappropriate behaviors decrease in strength and gradually extinguish. This results in inappropriate behaviors being replaced by more functional and desirable behaviors which enable the child to more successfully communicate and learn. (Hello, Dr. Wells)

The aforementioned is about an in-home program we ran for my daughter as an earliest intervention. Sure enough, we had a successful plan in place in order that we might grow desirable behaviors or more functional and sensible patterns. The plan involved a constant presence of meaningful instruction, and with that a constant source of direction against the negative or nonsensical patterns. It was nice to be able to provide such for our daughter during her earliest years. But, was this type of instruction and attention maintained throughout her elementary grade development? The answer is, in my daughter's case, it was not. Once ABA type of instruction reached the level where she lacked ability to further discern or understand the teaching, due to her lack in more abstract thought process (things much less concrete and rote), frustration ensued and actually contributed to negative patterns. 

Once those negative patterns were engaged upon, they contributed to future tenacious neural components or patterns; like super glue applied to a negative repertoire process. Unfortunately, once her lack in understanding became a challenge, beginning about the middle of first grade - instead of giving her functional and positive endeavors for completion; ones that she might be successful in and understand, we mistakenly stayed a course of trying to push learning and actually force her understanding of more abstract perceptions that she was not yet equip to handle. 

At some point ABA type of teaching possibly became harmful. Staying the course of pushing instruction, that she was not able to understand developed negative behavioral patterns - and possibly convoluted her overall neural thought pattern processes because of the stress involved in the process of insisting that she learn what she was not yet ready to learn. My focus was all about ignoring the screaming and pushing this instruction so that she might continue to learn, but I did not understand that attention needed to be given to the stickiness of harmful negative behavioral and or neural patterns. Even more so, ignoring the negative behavior so that it was not enforced in any way - caused less attention to be given to the need for thorough analysis of all that was transpiring in the surroundings (sensory wise) during the consideration was given to associations (context of current situation as compared to past similar situations) that may have contributed to the behavior. Were there triggers that were contributing to, what I would eventually find out were catatonic events?

One must consider both the neural underpinnings to thought patterns, and the already understood deficits with regard to developmental delay. The typical neural process is compromised at the earliest stage of development for those with autism and the way we know this is because they present the way they do during their earliest developmental stages. Some autistic individuals are probably dealing with a hodgepodge in thought, from their earliest stage of development. A hodgepodge that many will never have to deal with at any age, and others might deal with as they become older or have injury. What stands to reason is the fact that those who are hit later on with such a challenge are better off then one who is hit during initial stages in development. The ones affected later in life, will be better able to make sense of a thought disorder that might continue to plague them. For some autistic individuals, a neural process seems to be at play that medication seldom is able to completely intervene upon; for that matter, ABA types of teaching can fail as well.

There is a stickiness to negative neural patterns; the negative patterns seemingly stronger and building up to a point where they attack, at will, and have their way with the affected individual. If Temple Grandin thought in pictures due to thought association, I can say with certainty that my daughter thinks in behavioral repertoires that can be triggered by associative thought process. It seems that the best defense against such a detrimental process is that of directing the affected individual toward as much positive meaningful experience as possible, in order that they are not taken down by the merciless negative neural patterns that, at some point will act as like a damaging reflux of thought. The regurgitation occurring at will and affecting the autistic individual's ability to make sense of their surroundings and the people in their surroundings.

In the case of my daughter, I was at first able to determine that she developed sticky neural patterns to do with the out-of-the-ordinary, during her earliest years. Like a skating wreck on the park paths that she was compelled to re enact, and I had to redirect her against. And then I became aware of a defensiveness against sounds at the school during certain times of the day, whereby she displayed the same defensiveness at home during a holiday as if we had a public address system at home that was going off. Even as we didn't, and it was absolutely quiet. Also - eventually, she ended up re enacting behavioral outburst at school, that had initial observable cause but then were engaged upon only due to the familiarity of time of day or class subject (associative thought). I was able to determined such since I unofficially charted her behavior patterns from teacher reports. 

I told the teachers that the patterns could be broken by changing up the daily activities for her, or being readily available to redirect her in some positive way - against the neural pattern that wanted to have its way with her. Unfortunately, as one year and then another passed, her mind got the best of her and all of the patterns exponentially grew - becoming so strong and so numerous that she became berserk. During her craziest times, a rare variant of catatonia was observed and took her over with veracity. I understood that we were completely losing her. One time when she was locked into a catatonic event by a sofa, I just could not stand and watch, so I soft tackled her upon the sofa she was standing beside. She then took a sudden and deep breath, as I was still hugging her on the couch. Her once vacant eyes looked upon mine in amazement and she exclaimed "You did it Mom". Since the tackle was playful, she did not show aggression toward me as she usually might during a catatonic event's interruption, and so it was a positive thing that was also surprising enough to capture her attention away from a very strong neural pattern.

At the point of the playful soft tackle and her positive response to it I incrementally realized that far too often during her elementary years her teachers and I had depended on the idea that her bad (or negative) behavior was usually engaged upon for attention, escape, or for wants and needs. I had not appropriately entertained the notion that it was also about strong neural patterns that were triggered by thought associations. I believe many behavioral experts engage in this mistake. I now know that many times early on, her outburst were a result of her thought associations taking her back to a negative and very strong neural pattern that soon enough manifested as part of a complicated repertoire; sometimes into catatonic types of events. During those times, if we had given her something meaningful and fascinating enough to engage her, when the negative pattern was initiating, we might have broken the strength of the negative pattern, or frustrated it enough - so that it wouldn't continue to have its way with her. Together, my daughter and I have learned about her unique patterns of thought, and we work together to keep her thoughts going in productive and meaningful directions. A lot of times we talk about putting on the new Sarah, and getting rid of the old stuff. That has to do with what direction she allows her mind to go in. In context, one might want to review the Musicophilia postings to understand the neural basis for when thought goes wrong.

So take pains to give greater attention to the need for redirect and less attention to the idea of ignoring. Perhaps assess and redirect is a better way of making sure not to enforce negative behavior.

(This is a retrospect on how my daughter's journey transpired and what I might have done differently given the benefit of hindsight. I may have moved toward more naturalistic methods when her discernment was not able to handle the harder teaching concepts in our intense ABA type teaching program.)

Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks!

No cost access Hello, Dr. Wells on scribd. A biography of autism, and psychosis...sixteen years in the life of one girl.