How New Habits & Behavior Can Form

A Creative Mind… And an opportunity to reinforce skills.

My seven year old with ASD keeps reinventing his world!  He recently took all his shoes out of the closet and decided to place them in his golf cart and another bin in his bedroom; boldly declaring:  “This is where I will keep all my shoes from now on!”   I looked at his adorable face and gave him props for his creativity and celebrated his ingenuity.  I took pictures of him with his new golf-cart-shoes-bin and left him playing with it for the remainder of the afternoon.

Then, when it was time to clean up his bedroom before supper, I asked him to put all his shoes back in the closet, gently responding to every mild protest he was giving.

Why did I do that?  I am always mindful of habits forming for all four of my children on the spectrum.  Sometimes, habits are created out of boredom.  Other times my kiddos want to be in control and begin a behavior to self-soothe or assuage anxiety.  Whatever the reason, one thing is for certain…  Kiddos with an ASD diagnosis can form and latch on to a new habit in a heartbeat.  That comes naturally to them and it feels right.  Then another symptom of Autism presents itself…  Rigidity.   When rigidity sets in, it is oftentimes partnered with combativeness and tantrum behavior.  By that time, it becomes very difficult and sometimes almost impossible to make them change that habit or behavior.  Behavior Intervention strategies have to be implemented to help revert the habit or situation.  Since my twenty years of experience make me all too aware of how quickly new habits are formed, when I see it in the making, I immediately and reflexively stop and ask myself:  Where will this habit lead us in two weeks, one month, one year?

In the case of the “Golf Cart Shoe Bin” I imagined a day when we were running late for school because we could not find a shoe. Then the situation escalating into a full blown tantrum, when I insisted that he wore another non-preferred pair.  Ultimately, not only would my son be late, but so would everyone else; which would result in feelings of resentment, long faces, with that knowing glare through the rear-view mirror conveying hurt feelings all the way around.

Having four children with ASD upset in a car ride on the way to school is not a pleasant experience!  When I weighed that scenario versus talking him out of the golf-cart-shoe-bin, it was an easy choice.  However, there is more to the matter…  It was teaching my son how to transition back and forth with more ease.  It was also teaching him that some things must remain the way they are for functionality.  He was being taught that he can be creative and have some fun in his bedroom.  Some things can remain the way he created them, others must return to their place, to the order they were in.  Finally, those neural pathways were busy at work adjusting and changing to help him acquire and maintain new skills.  It may have been a tad inconvenient addressing that matter at the end of a long day and having my son return his shoes to the closet.  When considering all the possible outcomes… it was worth doing to prevent him forming a new habit or behavior that ultimately would not work.