Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Not Every Child with Autism is the Same: They call it a spectrum for a reason


I wrote a post last week about using positive reinforcement and meaningful consequences with my son. He had experienced a particular rough few days at school and I felt that it was in his best interest to employ this method. If you missed that post you can read more about it here:  

I am pleased to say that Bam Bam’s behavior immediately turned around and he has earned all pinks (outstanding and greens (ready to learn) since he had the consequence of having to pull weeds.

When I posted about positive reinforcement and meaningful consequences I got many positive comments, but I also got comments that basically insinuated that it is inappropriate to use consequences such as pulling weeds with kids on the spectrum. I think that it is important to note that the spectrum is extremely vast and that children on the spectrum vary from one to the next. Pulling weeds would not have worked for my son two years ago. His communication was severely delayed and he would not have understood the meaning behind this type of consequence. My son’s speech is now in the low average range and he is able to carry on a reciprocal conversation. He is at a place where he will at times test boundaries. I believe that if he is being blatantly defiant to his teacher or his peers that there needs to be an appropriate consequence. I don’t think that it is appropriate to pull the autism card if he chooses to lie to his parents, be disrespectful to his teacher, or mean to his peers. He is at a place where he needs to be taught that there are consequences for poor behavior.

I also wrote a post about meaningful consequences and positive reinforcement a couple of weeks ago.  If you haven’t read that post, you can read it here: 


In that post I discuss what positive reinforcement and meaningful consequences looked like when Bam Bam was younger and when his speech was limited. At that time, we used a ton of positive reinforcement. We used stickers to reinforce targeted behaviors. He would not earn stickers if he exhibited unexpected behaviors. We slowly faded this system as he began to progress.

To this day, we still use a ton of positive reinforcement. Bam Bam earns tokens throughout the week and he can buy things from a treasure chest. He was able to earn his Lego set at the end of last week after he shifted his behavior in a positive direction. Bam Bam has come an extremely long way. In two years we have gone from having a boy that had limited speech, who would lay in the floor at the store, and who would scream high pitched if he got even got slightly upset. We now have a child that is pretty independent most of the time and who is thriving in a general education kindergarten.  I want to add that a couple of friends and family members called me up after they saw a negative comment that was posted after I had written about meaningful consequences. Everyone emphatically said, “Do not ever feel like you have to apologize for the tactics that you have utilized. If people could just see how far Bam Bam has come and how you have poured your heart and soul into your child they would end up changing their tune.”

With all of this being said, I do want to reiterate that different tactics are used if my son is experiencing challenges that are directly related to him having autism. If he is in the middle of a meltdown, I use a countdown system and I also use strategies from Zones of Regulation. We try and front load my son with a ton of support to try and avoid these meltdowns from happening. We use visual schedules, visual timers, and multiple reminders before any transition. If I can sense that he is getting upset, I use limited language with prompts. I will also often use positive reinforcers to help during these episodes.

Really, the point of all of this is that we have used a variety of approaches with my son. I think that we in the autism community need to support one another before being quick to judge another autism parent about strategies that they choose to utilize. Remember, not every child with autism is the same. They call it a spectrum for a reason.




  1. Hi, I have a highly functional, very verbal, polite 6yr old in my class of 8 Kinders & 7 1st graders. Megan is repeating Kinder because she was unable to grasp math beyond 1+ 1,2,3,4 - she was unable to process on her own to count out ....blocks then .....more blocks - then add them up to find the answer. She knows 1-10 & Can count up to 10 only. She can count out & understands how many but adding was beyond her ability. She knows all letter names but only the consonant sounds. Vowels sounds stump her. I need help for ideas on how to help her learn. Mom works with her DAILY, she received one on one at school daily AND 2 hours weekly with a special Ed tutor to no avail. Please help. Thanks. Mlamb04@gmail.com

    1. Diary of an Autism MomJuly 2, 2016 at 12:44 PM

      I just answered your question in a blog post. I hope that this helps.