Overcorrection

In the first month of 1996 Robert (a couple of months short of his fourth birthday) started dumping the  buckets of Lego blocks on the floor. I didn’t know then and I don’t know now why he was doing that.  There was no way he could explain me the reasons behind his actions and there was no way I could persuade him not to do that.  Although at that time, Robert was already receiving ABA therapy,  I either didn’t hear about Functional Analysis of Behavior or considered it inapplicable. Just month before I had broken my leg on the small patch of ice and  still little uneasy I treaded lightly around the  house.  Hundreds of small blocks were not a small nuisance.  Functional Analysis of Behavior takes a lot of time as it requires careful observation of what has happened before the behavior (Antecedent) and what happens after (Consequence) to understand this ABC’s pattern (Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence).  That would also mean that the behavior would need to repeat itself many times before FAB could be completed and its recommendations applied.  Based on the circumstances in which these incidents happened it was impossible to determine  Robert’s reasons.

He did it once when I was washing dishes in the kitchen and although I observed him through the opening in the wall, I didn’t interact with him.  So it could be that Robert wanted my attention.

Once it happened during his discrete trail session where almost too much attention was paid to him.  So it could be that Robert wanted to escape the drills.

Since at least once I saw him jumping excitedly after blocks hit the floor with rattling noise, it also could be that he got sensory reinforcement.

No matter what was behind this behavior, it had to stop.  The sooner the better.  When Robert dumped the blocks in the presence of his therapist, Evelyn, she decided to use overcorrection – which simply meant that Robert had to clean up the mess he made.  Of course, he didn’t want to.  Evelyn went on her knees.  Robert got on his knees.  Evelyn held Robert’s hand in her hand.  Slowly and with great effort she picked up all the blocks using Robert’s uncooperative hand.  As I remember her and myself neither of us held Robert, but we were bent over him closely enough so he couldn’t swing his head and hit us with it.  It was something he was pretty skillful at doing.

As soon as Evelyn and Robert finished, Robert got up, grabbed the pail and  deposited its content in front of my feet. So it was my turn to do what Evelyn just demonstrated to me.  Except it was much harder than it seemed. It was especially confusing to know the exact distance – not be too close to Robert and obstruct his movements and not be  too far as that would  leave enough room for Robert to swing his  head like a weapon.  After all blocks were  back in the bucket, Robert calmly returned to his desk for another session of discrete trails. While I felt a little shaken by this experience, Robert didn’t show any sign of distress.

Yet, as soon as Evelyn left, Robert ran for the bucket again and aiming for the biggest impact dumped the blocks next to me. So I repeated my previous actions, although it was much harder without Evelyn watching me and giving me pointers.  I was afraid that I wouldn’t leave him enough room to move, so I gave him too much room and paid for it.  Still, we finished.  The last few blocks Robert picked up all on his own, motivated to quickly finish the task and do something else.

That was the last time he purposefully dropped the blocks or anything else on the floor.

Well, not exactly. It was the last time for the next eight/nine years.  When he was almost 12 years old, new waves of destructive behaviors like a tsunami kept on washing whole boxes of math counters, books, crayons  from  tables, desks, and shelves. They were coming sporadically but with full force over a period of 6-8 months.   Robert still couldn’t explain anything.  This time, however,  we wouldn’t  dare to use overcorrection the same way we used it before.

He was too big, too strong, and too angry…

Still, for over  eight years following the winter of 1995 Robert never purposefully dumped anything on the floor.

His experiments with breaking Christmas ornaments, I described somewhere else on this blog, belong to a different category.  They were clearly motivated by Robert’s need to research both gravity and the hidden lives of spheres.  

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1 Comment

  1. As Simple as That | krymarh

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