Dear Tali,

Currently my son likes to make ‘raspberries’ and he gets spit on our faces.  He does this with all of his siblings, us and new people he meets- what should we do to help him stop?
-Cheryl, Son-Rise Mom

Dear Cheryl,

This is a great question and the answer can be applied to any challenging behavior that might get a big reaction like hitting or pinching.  Follow the below guidelines:

1. Attitude first.  Know that your child is simply experimenting with reactions and boundaries and this is not a statement of his character (‘this must mean that my son is a rude and insensitive person’).  Before doing anything, recognize this, feel calm and eager to help him engage more successfully with people around him.

2. Give little or no reaction.  All children, especially children on the autism spectrum who often do not have a sense of control, love big reactions.  This means big joyful celebrations as well as yelling and getting red in the face.  A big reaction is simply a big reaction and gives a child a sense of control and predictability (if I spit- she will scream).  If this is true for your child experiment doing a 3 week trial.  During these 3 weeks make sure you, your other children and other people your child may encounter (other family members, teachers, therapists) do not make a reaction when he spits.  Guide them to simply walk away with out saying anything.  Explain that if it is a big reaction he is seeking, than by eliminating this reaction in a consistent way over a period of time will likely give him no reason to continue.

3. Give him big reactions in other areas. If your child helps you in the house, cooperates nicely in daily activities or simply chooses to play with you- use this time to give  him the big reactions (hugs, cheers,etc.).  The rule is this:  give a big reaction to any thing you want to encourage your child to do more of and give no or little reaction to anything you want to discourage him to do.

After 3 weeks, evaluate how this strategy has worked- I would imagine you will see quite a change with your child.  If you have not- you may consider a clear consequence.  For example, you can tell your child  (in a calm but clear way) that every time he spits in someones face he will have to go to his room for 5 minutes until he is ready to be sweet with people (make sure to set a timer so the time is clear and consistent).  We tried this with a child who continually banged the oven door until it broke off several times and who used to lick peoples faces.  He does not do either one of these things anymore.

Cheryl, enjoy figuring out what makes your child ‘tick’ and know that whatever you discover can be applied to any new behavior that may come up.  Be  a student of your child, learn what he is truly seeking (reactions or boundaries for example) and then knowing what to do will be much easier to figure out!

-Tali Field Berman, certified Son-Rise Program Teacher

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