This weekend, our family celebrated my Granddaughter, Symonne’s birthday. As part of the celebration, we served a delicious meal of jerk salmon, jerk chicken, rice & beans, and plantain. Usually, both my sons like salmon. And, rice is a Brazilian staple that Dad serves almost daily. So, I thought that at the very least, they would eat the salmon and rice. Well, to my surprise, there was a bit of resistance on Evilasio’s part. He strongly (and loudly) said, “No, I will not try it! Leave me alone!” At the time, he was competing in a game online and was in 1st place (typical for him). However, with Mommy asking that he stop to eat, he was becoming extremely frustrated. So, I put my Dr. Da Paz, BCBA hat on and first, I gave him a time limit to playing. I let him choose, 1 minute or 3 minutes of playing, then food. Of course, he chose 3 minutes to play. (Note: when you give choices, make the choice that you want to give appear more appealing. I wanted to give him 3 minutes, but if I had said, 3 minutes or 5 minutes, I’m certain he would have chosen 5 minutes!) Next, we set the timer and I checked in every minute: 2 minutes, 1 minute, 30 seconds, 10…9…8…, time. For context, we have Daddy, little brother, big sister, niece, and niece’s father in the room. The pressure is on. I was feeling the heat and I had to follow through. Sometimes, an audience is not what you want, but then you just have to go with it, whatever it is. So, it’s now time to eat and he is still very much engaged in his game. I move his food around on his place and put a small amount of rice and a small sliver of salmon in one spot and gave him the fork. “I told you I’m not going to try it!” He screamed. “Leave me alone, you’re going to make me loose my game.” My response, in a very calm and soft tone, “Thank you for telling me how you feel. Pause your game please and try a little rice and a little salmon.” “I said, No!” he screamed back. So I had to go back to choices. “Do you want me to feed you or will you feed yourself?” I asked with the rice and salmon on the fork and the fork in my hand headed for his mouth. “I will do it myself!” he exclaimed. He paused the game, took the fork from me and ATE THE SALMON AND RICE!!!!! Yes, happy dance in my head, but I had to still remain calm to keep the energy down. “Thank you so much for trying it. I really appreciate that. I’m going to leave it here just in case you want more. Thank you, again.” Whew!! That could have gone so many ways. I was so overjoyed that he actually tried the food and the explosion was kept at a low simmer. But, that is not the best part. Later, he came to me and spontaneously said, “I’m sorry for yelling at you Mommy.” Then he gave me a HUG!!! That was EVERYTHING!!! – an unsolicited apology from my son with Autism. HE decided that he needed to apologize for yelling. I was just happy that he ate the salmon and rice.
Moral of the story, be clear about what you want your child to do. Give them choices to empower their decision-making skills. Set clear time limits for starting or ending an activity (using a timer is very helpful) and reinforce positive behavior with praise or access to preferred items/activities. Then remain calm and model the behavior you want to see. You never know, they just might surprise you!