Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Dealing with Difficult Behaviors - Yours, Mine and Ours

One of the things I dread, no I mean enjoy, most about blogging are the seemingly endless opportunities to learn new technologies and ways of thinking. At the same time I can use the writing and research skills I am more confident about. There is comfort in the feeling of competence, but the line between competence and complacency can be fuzzy. Blogging keeps me on my toes.

Parenting through mid life can also bolster feelings of competence, but there’s danger in thinking you have little left to learn. Although I try to attend training sessions and workshops focused on the nuts and bolts of systems and programs , until last night it had been quite a while since I went to a talk that was more touchy-feely than fact-filled.

I heard Dr. David Pitonyak speak to the Special Education Parent, Student, Teachers Association about Dealing with Difficult Behaviors. Dr. Pitonyak regularly visits Clark County to provide training and consulting to families and organizations regarding disability support issues.

I found Dr. Pitonyak's perspective refreshing, and his words are helping me to view Sayer’s “challenging behaviors” in a new light. I’m not going to rehash his whole lecture but I do want to share two “take aways” [do I like this term or despise it? I’m still not sure!]:

Dr. Pitonyak's main point is that difficult behaviors result from unmet needs. First, when trying to understand and respond to a child’s behavior, think about this three legged-stool of issues:




Dr. Pitonyak's belief is that most challenging behaviors result from a dysregulation of one of more of these stool legs. Often problems in one area feed off of or cause problems in another area. If you are tired, your self-confidence is weakened; if you are stressed out, you don’t sleep as well, and so on.

This idea has reassured me that Dan and I are going some things right, although there is room for improvement. I have been making an extra effort to boost Sayer’s self-confidence; i.e. “You did a great job at the library.” I’m also thinking about the link between the lack of rest and his anxiety (maybe he’s still getting used to daylight savings time ). We adults also have to contend with the three-legged stool. When I am tired from Sayer getting up early due to anxiety, I have less energy to boost his self-confidence, which would lessen his anxiety.

Dr. Pitonyak also emphasizes that persons with disabilities need to feel useful and included. Being of service,not just being the one served, is essential for self-confidence. Dan grasped that instinctively last week when he let Sayer choose a bag of ravioli at the grocery store, even though we already have three bags of the same item in the freezer. And we are on the right track since Sayer loves to help with laundry – although he can be overzealous and would wash his clothes daily if he could. We’re still working on the concept that dirty clothes must accumulate!

The second point to share is that we as parents need to appreciate the value of joy in our child’s lives. Too often, we view every event as a “’teaching moment” but don’t make enough of an effort to have fun with our children. Dr. Pitonyak's belief is that persons with disabilities are too often isolated and miss having friends. Our family is fortunate because Sayer does have some friends and maybe just as important, he perceives that he has friends.

However, Sayer is unable to pick up the phone or arrange a play date on the school bus, so it is up to Dan and me to make social moments happen. Too often, making social plans shifts to the bottom of the pile. Hearing David speak has recharged my commitment to broadening Sayer’s fun profile. Luckily, we can tap into organized social activities organized by parents, such as Friends on the Spectrum outings.

Dr. Pitonyak's web site has great information and resources; I encourage you to explore. His “7 Questions to guide the development of a support plan” link offers a good summary of his talk last night. And don’t forget to make room for some fun this week.


Dana said...

I applaud your efforts to discuss these important topics. I think it is so important to support each other in the field who are blogging about child-related issues.

Keep up the good work.

Dana Sherman
The Feelings Doctor

Anali said...

Hi Carol. I'm here via ByJane's blogroll. I don't have children, but I do have a brother with special needs, so I'm always noticing when there is a sibling, because they are impacted as well.

When I was young, there really weren't programs for the siblings of the special needs children. I found out about them within the past few years and it can be a great resource. I'm not sure if you're older son is involved in any of those. One thing that I noticed when I started meeting other siblings was the large number who ended up becoming attorneys. It was quite interesting.

Please excuse me if I'm butting in too much. Nice blog that you have here. ; )

Carol said...

Thanks, Dana, for your encouragement.

Carol said...


No, you are not 'butting in' at all!

When Sayer was younger his brother went to a sibling workshop one day put on by The Arc. But, we've found the best support for him has been informal; he has a friend his age with a brother with special needs, and that helps.

How interesting about sibling attorneys. I wonder if these siblings become special education or civil rights attorneys, based on their family's struggle to get services for their sibling? I do know that a number of siblings go on to become occupational or speech therapists.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carol, thanks for yet another good write up on a Special Education PTSA event. Dr. Pitonyak has been our most popular speaker. If anyone out there wants to get on the SEPTSA e-mail list they can write to growingwize@msn.com We have two meetings still to come this school year.Take care, everyone, Pam

Anonymous said...

Great post. It's interesting to know that building self-confidence can be as easy as ABC. Interestingly enough, www.confidencebuildingcourses.com offer good tips too. Might be interesting to check it out.

ByJane said...

Wow! I wish I had known of Dr. Pitonyak when I was a clinician working with special needs children. His three-legged stool theory makes much sense and I can even now see how it was playing out with many of the kids I was treating then.

Carol said...

I know what you mean - the concept has helped me deal with my older son, too. Who knew high school could be so exhausting!

Ramona said...

I'd be interested in seeing hard data about siblings occupational/professional choices. I will get around to web searching it some time.....maybe.....
My daughter , in her second year of college, has been talking about going on to law school. It will be interesting to watch ......