How to Deal with the Needs of your Special Child

Following are questions asked by parents of special needs children:

1. How do special needs children understand cause and effect and also rewards versus punishments? Do they understand the same as other children?

Strangely enough, it doesn’t matter! Every living creature has an awareness of reward and punishment at some level. Take as lowly a creature as a cockroach. Roaches hate light and love darkness. Being in light is unpleasant, being in darkness is pleasant. Of course they don’t use words like that – they are probably not even “conscious” of liking or not liking. But the result is the same:

Turn on the lights and the roach goes scuttling for darkness. In a very basic sense, light = punishment and darkness = reward. The behavior of escaping from light to dark is rewarded, and so is repeated.

Roaches don’t have a memory and can’t be instructed like we can. Canines can be instructed because they have a wonderful memory. They know, for example, if they hear the word “stay” they will stay in place in order to receive a treat or reward.

The more sophisticated the creature, the better their memory and analytical skills, and the greater their awareness of time (i.e. that future events will happen) then the more complex the varieties of reward and punishment that can be used.

What reward and punishments should you dole out? Easy. Try first by experimenting with different rewards and punishments based on your own experience. Have a system of rewards and punishments that will affect your child’s behavior. Make sure that you are consistent. If their behavior changes then you have accomplished your goal. If it does not then take these two things into consideration:

a) your rewards and punishments systems did not have big enough meaning in your child’s life or

b) your child could not build a bridge between the behavior and the reward or punishment. If you wait too long to respond to a behavior then your reward or punishment may have little or no meaning. This is most often see when dealing with younger children.

If your plan doesn’t seem to work at all then you need to stop and look at what you are doing. Make improvements and modifications. Try the system another time. Keep changing the system until you find one that works. If you are unable to find a system that works then think about the following:

You have tried all of the things you can think of and your child’s behavior hasn’t budged. What do you do? For example, let’s say your child had PDD. You are required to complete a few hours of physical therapy with your child eacy day. However, your child doesn’t want to do the physical therapy.

You try everything you can think of and read the book thoroughly. You try different reward and punishment systems to no avail. You have struggled to make physical therapy appear like a fun time. No matter what you do, you are not accomplishing the physical therapy session every day.

What can you do about this? You have two choices including:

a. You could become all upset and flustered about it. You get mad at yourself for your apparent failure. You feel like you are no service to your child. You want to find the magic trick that will make your child want to do his physical therapy session.

b. You stop and look at your situation. You take a deep breath and look at things realistically and logically. You are okay with the fact that half the time the physical therapy session may not happen, but this is still an improvement from how much physical therapy your child was accomplishing last year.

Which option, (a.) or (b.), will yield a better result?

The downfall fo (a.) is that your stress level will sky rocket which affects everyone negatively. You are not having a fun time and your results won’t improve this way.

The reality is that there is, perhaps, nothing on Earth that would motivate Tim to do those exercise 100% of the time. Sorry. But we live in an imperfect world, and maybe the child in the wheelchair really will never walk. We would all wish it were different. But if that is how it is, then that is how it is.

It is critical that you pay attention to your child’s specific needs. Strive to define success off of what you are provided with and not an ideal. When you do this, you will ward off stress and the results you want will occur. If things still don’t improve would you want to have: a) limited performance and we are all angry? b) limited performance and we are all happy?

The important thing to remember is to not try to compete to an unrealistic level. Strive to achieve the small successes and accept that things might never totally be the way you want them to be.