Saturday, January 17, 2009

Positive Reinforcement

Yesterday was a big day. Besides the fact that at 6:30 am my husband, Todd, came back into our room and whispered, "school's cancelled, I'll turn off your alarm and the kid's alarms". What a guy. Ahhhhh stay in bed and sleep. One of my favorite things to do! Which by the way, Zachary tells people. He literally says, "my mom loves to sleep!" What's true is true.

The day started out well. Since the kids get Monday off for MLK day, we now have a four day weekend. It wasn't long before I realized that there was a possibility of Daniel missing something great. Daniel is in the class that calls itself the T.O.A.D.S. team. (Team of Awesomely Diverse Students) It is a regular general education class. They team teach so it is two classes each with a teacher, Mrs. Ballard and Mrs Scott. They mix up the classes for groups, they are sometimes all together. It is a very fluid classroom. It is the perfect place for Daniel and his teachers completely "get him". They had planned a special outing for all of the kids who achieved a 3 or 4 (out of 1, 2, 3, 4) on their citizenship grade on their report cards. Daniel had a 3 on his report card. This is the breakdown for a 3:
  • usually shows kind and respectful behavior towards others.
  • usually uses self-control when making choices
  • usually operates as a positive member of our T.O.A.D.S team.

I was very proud of Daniel for getting a 3. I think you can agree for a kid on the autistic spectrum, achieving the above list is much more difficult for him than a general ed student. He works HARD. We stress the importance of these things at home, probably even more than the academics for him, although we work hard on that too.

The outing was going to a movie with the teachers. Isn't that just a wonderful, positive, way to reward students who do the RIGHT thing? Positive reinforcement. I love it. The parents drop them off at 4:30 and pick them up at the theater at 6:30. I had sat Daniel down and explained why he earned this special time. I really don't think I've ever seen him so proud. Further evidence of how hard he works at his self control. But this is big for him. Other kids get dropped off at the theater and picked up by their parents all the time. This is not something he has ever done, of course. He isn't ready for that developmentally. I went and talked to the teachers about how they felt with taking him to the movies on their own. I offered to go, but really, I felt it would be a MUCH bigger deal if he went with them, alone. They were fine with it. We exchanged cell numbers etc. His para pro wasn't going to be there, so I suggested one of them sit next to him. He tends to start verbalizing and doing his echoalia repeating during movies. So I felt he might need some quiet reminders to keep it down. He knows he should, he just forgets. He really can't follow the movies, the language is too much information, so part way through he starts to drift off. He loves the experience though, and he loves that he gets popcorn which he doesn't get otherwise, so it's one of his favorite things to do. We were all set.

Then the cold came. Bone chilling cold. The schools are all closed. I held my breath most of the morning until I received the email telling me the outing was still on. See you at 4:30. Hurray!

I dropped Daniel off at 4:30. He saw Mrs. Scott and said "Hi Mrs. Scott, where is my popcorn?" lol. See, I told you that is why he goes! But I knew he'd do a great job. When his peers are around he has a way of really pulling it all together. He wants to fit in. He tries really really hard. So I left him. It was tough, I have to admit it. I wanted to take his hand and lead him in and sit by him and help him through it all. But I turned around and walked out the door, clutching my Blackberry, with the teachers numbers freshly entered.

Todd and I took Zachary out to dinner at the location of his choice. Mexican was the suggestion (I love that kid) so we had dinner for three. It was nice. He got a special time with mom and dad, so it worked for everyone. I was a bit worried because we weren't picking him up until 6:30. He usually eats at 5:30, and when he's hungry he doesn't do well. I had slipped Mrs Scott a small bag of M & M's and told her to bring it out half way through the movie. I knew the popcorn would be gone before the lights went down. I was hoping it would help him get through.

I ran into the theater at 6:30 (sharp!) and found the group waiting. It was PACKED in there. Apparently everyone thought a movie on a 20 below day sounded like the right thing to do. Mrs. Scott looked and me and said, "he did phenomenal". He was so quiet, it was incredible. She looked at Daniel and said, "Daniel, I'd take you to a movie anytime!" Then she leaned over to me and said that after the movie was over, Daniel looked at Mrs. Ballard and said, "Mrs. Ballard you did a great job staying quiet during the movie!" Positive reinforcement, you gotta love it!