At our weekly ABA meetings, we discuss any concerns about my son’s development. There is not a week that goes by without a concern. He’s not brushing his teeth. He melts when I try to comb or brush his hair. His screaming has escalated. He doesn’t eat. The list goes on.
The idea is that the team will add a program to address these concerns. Some issues are long-standing (eating for example). Some have been addressed and reappear. Some are addressed and considered “mastered.” That means that my son is responding “correctly” in most instances during the program, with the tutors. I don’t know the percentage before the program is considered mastered but I’d say it’s in 80-100 percent range.
Once a program is mastered, there is a term called generalization. When it was first described to me, I was excited and hopeful. It meant that the skills being taught to my son were now being turned over to me, his dad, and everyone he encounters. Generalization, I learned, doesn’t always work. In my son’s case, generalization probably works more than not. But, let me just put it this way. Rather than looking forward to “generalization” these days, I often get a feeling of dread.
Generalization occurs at the end of a “senior tutor shift. Our “senior” tutor is the tutor who knows, creates and individualizes most, if not all of the programs used to address my son’s behavioral issues. She brings my son to me at the end of the shift. When she hands him over with paper, I know those papers are “generalization” data sheets. She is transferring a program to me. No longer the naive parent I once was, I know this means that I am supposed to record his compliance with being told to perform this new skill. I don’t like to take data. I often don’t remember to take data. And my kid is so busy working me if he doesn’t like a program, generalization often fails. If not with me, then with others, like his dad.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m always excited when he “masters” a program but the “mastery” often doesn’t include me and when it doesn’t, the program is put “on hold” and other things are pursued. At first, I thought mastering meant it would just naturally transfer to all settings. Not so. He will refuse and ignore my instructions. By far, though, the biggest obstacle to him completing any task is his wandering mind.
It’s not that he does not understand. It’s that he gets lost in the middle of any given task. He will start and then get absorbed in some thought completely unrelated to the task at hand. I have to bring him back. It will take a “No,” prompt (and he hates those and cusses – again with equations, “Gordon!” or “Fire truck”) before he focuses back on what he is supposed to be doing.
Right now, he’s working on “getting dressed”. From nudity, he has to put on his clothes (undies, shorts and a shirt) on his own.
I can leave him alone after giving him the statement, “Get dressed,” and come back five minutes later to find him unclothed, on the bed, watching TV or playing with his iPad. I have found him with only his shirt over his butt as though it is his shorts. I’ve found him with both feet in one leg of his shorts. His clothes have been on backward.
“Get dressed,” I said that first time, cheerfully, forceful (and yes that is possible).
“ONE PLUS FIVE EQUALS SIX!” he yelled back. This was followed by mumbling to himself and grabbing for his undies. Then, he sits up and looks off in the distance and mumbles, undies at his ankles or not yet on at all.
“No, get dressed,” I remind him.
“PLUS ONE, PLUS 2+8= 10!” he cusses.
He lays on the bed and doesn’t move.
“Wanna start over?” I ask. (He hates starting over with anything.)
“Yes. NO!” he responds. He continues to lay dormant on the bed.
He finally pulls up the undies after about five minutes of delay. He hasn’t checked for the tag as he’s been taught and is wearing them backward. He has to start over.
After that, it took him six more minutes to put on his shorts. He is ready to leave the house shirtless. I prompt him to go back and put on his shirt. That process looks a lot like this:
With the tank tops, he gets confused by the arm versus the head hole. His head is too big for either, but since the arm holes on the tanks are almost as large as the head hole, I redirect him on this. The first time, after generalization, it took about 15 minutes and ended with a good cry.
I felt like this:
The second time he put on all his clothes in a little over a minute and a half! Front versus back was pure luck. On average, it’s takes about 10 minutes to put those three items on, with multiple, repeated prompts.
Another previously generalized program was “sitting for meals” where he is supposed to remain seated until he finishes his food. Currently, he stays for one bite, gets up, is prompted to sit back down and – repeat. No success there at all.
And then there was “brushing hair” where he is has to stay seated, not grab my hand and not scream. He executes this perfectly for his tutors and for me, in front of the tutors. In real life? When he’s up first thing in the morning or out of the tub, there is grabbing, yelling, screaming equations and running away.
So, yeah, “yay” for generalization.
Maybe, someday, in time, it will work.