Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Become a Color Commentator

I have been itching to explore something with you.  It is a concept that I bumped into when Superman was in his early stages of Autism recovery. I was obsessed with finding strategies that might help him be more comfy in the light of our world.  I knew that ABA based strategies were not the answer.  A smart, smart woman by the name of Viv Hazel made an offhand comment about how we have to be our kiddos' frontal lobe.  We have to interpret for them until they can do it on their own. So I began my exploration and experimentation.  Here is what I ended up with.

Kiddos with Autism (and, I found by trial and error, EBD kiddos) need someone to help them interpret what is going on (rather than consequencing them)  They have weak filters.  They have no way of understanding social cause and effect and many have trouble interpreting other sorts of cause and effect. 

Pay attention here!  This is why you rarely see an EBD kiddo no longer need EBD services.  This is why kids with Autism who only receive ABA based therapy can say some superficial things by rote, but lack connection or spontaneity. Shaping behaviors with points and level systems may help make some minor short term changes in negative behaviors, but they generally cause those same behaviors to come back with a vengeance once the systems are removed. 

What I have found to be the most effective strategy is to be an interpreter and commentator.  It's a full time job.  You have to be ever-vigilant.  There is no down time. It's like helping someone learn a second language and we all know that emersion is the best way.  So be ready to talk nonstop.  (I love that part!)

So, what you do is provide constant commentary about what is going on.  Include what affect you are noticing from the kiddo you are helping.  It has to be as straight forward factual as possible.

Here is how it works.  And it really works!  That's the beauty of it.

When a kiddo is happily coloring, you comment on that.  "I notice how you like to color.  You look really relaxed.  Your face is relaxed and I see your body is calm.  You are really focused on your coloring.

When a kiddos are playing a board game you make constant comments on all the affect you observe.  "This group of friends is happy to be together.  Joey, you are smiling.  Sammy, you seem really excited because you are bouncing in your seat.  Jack, you seem tense right now. I guess you didn't like what happened on your last turn."

Lunch duty as I am watching kids file through the lunch line-  "Hey Kimmy!  You look like you had a good morning by the smile on your face.
 Jake, you are pushing (note I did not say to stop pushing) the people in front of you.  You must be hungry! Most kiddos will self correct when you just make a comment about what you see. 

 If they don't, you can help them along by saying to the person who got pushed, "Tim, you just got pushed.  You are frowning so you are probably annoyed by being pushed, huh?"  At this point Jake will usually self correct.  If not, then correct the pushing by saying, "Jake, you just pushed Tim.  Did you know that? What can we do to make Tim feel better about being in line in front of you?"    Jake will usually offer a suggestion and follow through.  At that point you say to Tim, "You look like you feel better.  Your face doesn't look so tense.  Jake you have calmed down in line.  Look, you are almost there!"

As I teach, I am constantly providing commentary.  Constantly telling the kiddos what I see and what others see and how they are responding.  I use no judgement or scolding.  Just constant commentary.

This strategy works amazingly fast.  You will note a difference within minutes and if you keep up with it you will see lasting changes.  LASTING changes.  Changes made because connections were made. As opposed to temporary changes that are only in response to token economies, point systems or negative consequences.  

What is so hard for so many to understand that kids with behavioral issues... no matter the root causes... are doing what they do because they have not connected the dots?  These dot connections are the only way to make lasting change in behaviors and motivations.  

It is our job to help kids connect.  Give them constant nonjudgemental feedback and commentary, and I promise you will see wonderful changes.  It is very important that you make commentary in peaceful situations as well as more tense situations.  Without that, how are the kids going to truly see the difference?

Just try it.  Let me know what happens.


  1. I'm reading your blog. I'm seeing that you enjoy writing about the subject in which you are an expert. I am seeing that you could write a book. I know that others have told you that you could write a book. I think you are writing a book.

    Write your damn book already! What have you got to lose?

  2. Nice modeling of the commentary strategy! I believe I will write a book. See how effective a strategy that is?


Although I am dangerously opinionated, I am a flexible thinker and welcome your thoughts.