If you’re new to this series, Christopher is my nephew with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder, aka A Sweet Dude). We work on academic and social skills, along with shaping his behavior towards more mature responses to frustration.
Here’s the big idea: You cannot “modify” all maladaptive behavior out of existence. And not all “maladaptive” behavior is actually maladaptive. One example is finger sucking.
Finger sucking: Christopher has been sucking his fingers since he was an infant. It provides him a sense of comfort, and as he approaches his 11th birthday, is quite an ingrained habit. His teeth protrude somewhat as a result of this habit and his saliva now covers most surfaces in our house.
Replacement behavior: No matter what we do right now, Christopher is going to put something in his mouth. A more age-appropriate replacement is sucking on the end of his pencil. After purchasing pencil toppers from Therapy Shoppe and watching him chew them vigorously at times, it’s obvious that finger sucking provides needed sensory feedback. His guardian adapted one of them to fit on a necklace since Christopher would run around with a pencil sticking out of his mouth. The necklace is not quite as subtle, but significantly safer and readily accessible.
The next challenge is supporting Christopher in his regular classroom. He’s a sweetheart in a one-to-one setting but can drive teachers nuts in a large group. Does he deliberately sabotage classroom environments? Not at all. He’s a rule-follower who does his best to please, while working towards his idea of school goals (primarily, survival). His “disobedience” is a signal that he needs some modifications to his schedule and workload. More to come!