April is Autism Awareness Month

(Please forgive the fact that this post jumps around a bit. I just had major surgery this week so my writing ability is a little marred.)

I felt it was important to get this out today in light of Autism Awareness MonthImage

April is Autism Awareness Month; however, I think I agree with many of my friends that there are few people who aren’t aware of autism- so why are we still focusing on awareness.  Let’s focus on building quality lives for all our children. One of my friends is trying to change April to Autism Actions and True Friendships Month. Check out this facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/NaturalTies This was one of Jay’s favorite activities- going out with the guys. It helped build friendships in the community that lasted a lifetime.

Today’s Blog:

One of the best decisions my husband and I ever made in our lives was to choose to live with our friend Jay who happened to have autism. We learned so much from him and hopefully we enriched his life as much as he enriched ours. Every year at Christmas I share a story about Jay and this year I decided to save it for April. In 2009, we lost Jay to a sudden heart attack and this story comes from his last Christmas on Earth.

Jay did not clearly understand money for if you asked him what his house cost he would say, “One dollar”.  Jay worked 20 hours a week as a mailman at the University of Kansas and he was paid the same wages as anyone else at the University. Hundreds of dollars meant nothing to Jay. So his check was deposited into his bank account and each day he was given eight one dollar bills if he did a good job at work.

Jay only liked one dollar bills and if you gave him a five, ten, or twenty it would promptly go into the trash because it didn’t belong in his billfold (lesson learned). This gave him enough money throughout the week to pay for his meals when he went out with the fraternity gentlemen on Wednesday night, dinner with his girlfriend and music therapist on Monday night, lunches out with friends throughout the week and dancing on Friday night at one of the local clubs. It also allowed him to go down and purchase a soda from the machine each day during his work break. These eight dollars meant everything to him. Jay loved opening up his billfold and pulling out his own money to pay for his meals.

Every once in awhile, Jay would have a not so great day at work. Whenever he chose to not be compliant at work, he was told he might not earn his eight dollars. This was usually enough to get him on the right track . One day, Jay was in the hallway without his job coach and I saw him focusing on a door. Jay had obsessive compulsive disorder and one of his major obsessions was that “things” were at a 90 degree angle. He did not like “catty wampus”. All of the furniture in our home was flat up against the wall and all of our towels hung at precise 90 degree angles. As you might imagine at a university with tons of busy professors and doctoral students, post-it notes are left on doors to send messages to each other. Jay did not like post-it notes that were not placed at 90 degree angles. He would fuss and fuss with them until they were perfectly placed. Unfortunately, as is with post-it note stickiness- it wears off.

I saw Jay messing with a post-it note on a doc student’s door. He kept straightening and straightening and then it happened. The post-it note started falling off the door and onto the floor. This would not do. Nothing belonged on the floor so I knew where the post-it note was headed. It was headed for the great toilet bowl in the sky. The other thing Jay loved was watching things swirl in the toilet bowl as they disappeared from sight.  I saw Jay look around and start heading toward the restroom with the post-it note. I happened to know the post-it note was very important and the doc student needed to see it. I followed Jay. As he headed for the restroom door, I said, “Jay, it will be such a bummer if you flush that post-it note down the toilet. You wouldn’t be able to get your eight dollars today. Denise really needs that note.”

Jay stood still in his tracks and looked over his shoulder at me. I could see the wheels spinning in his head. “Oh yeah, she’s the one that means what she says. Crumb.” He stood there for a minute and then marched quickly past the bathroom door and straight for the trash can at the end of the hall.  He placed the post-it note in the trash can and turned around and smiled at me.  He said, “I’m getting my eight dollars today.”  All I had said was, “If you flush it you won’t get your eight dollars.”  He was so smart. He did get his eight dollars.

I did dig out the note from the trash and slid it under Denise’s door.  (That would have bothered him to know because he would have asked all day, “When is she going to pick that up?”) He loved to pick up things off the floor.  A trip to Wal-Mart was quite a coup for the Wal-Mart employees because Jay did their work that day.

So Jay’s eight dollars meant a lot to him. You might say it was one of the ways he felt as if he was the same as everyone else because he paid his own way with his own money that he earned. Jay never left work without earning his eight dollars.

My husband has a big heart and he cannot walk past a homeless person without giving them money. He can’t walk past the kettles at Christmas time and not add something to the pot. Jay witnessed this time and time again when we were out and about. He never said anything, but he was watching. Our last Christmas together was extremely icy in Kansas. One day, his job coach Shelby took him with her to the grocery store to run some errands for the Beach Center. Since it was icy and Jay was uneasy on his feet in normal circumstances, she decided to drop him off at the door and then go park the car. She told him to stand still and she’d be right back for him. As she parked the car and was walking up to the door, she witnessed Jay’s generous soul.

The Salvation Army Kettle Ringer was standing at the door with his big red pot. Jay opened up his billfold, pulled out all eight, one dollar bills and placed them carefully into the bellringer’s pot. The Salvation Army Employee had tears in his eyes because he knew Jay and he knew how much this had to mean to him. He gave away his last one dollar bill to help someone else.

As I reflect again on Jay’s life and what living with him meant to our family, I think about how much he gave us in friendship, his loving heart, and the kindness he generated in others. Almost 700 people came to Jay’s funeral and open house. I believe it is because his loving heart touched so many and he taught us what it means to give dignity to each person’s soul. Despite having his own issues to deal with, Jay had compassion in his heart for everyone. He loved everyone. He didn’t see race, religion, sex, or disabilities. He just loved you for being you.

So in honor of autism awareness month and in honor of Jay Turnbull, I ask you to take eight dollars this month and pay it forward. I usually ask people to do this at Christmas time; however, everyone is asking for help at Christmas. I thought a better way to spread Jay’s spirit is to ask now during Autism Awareness Month. So, if you can: give eight dollars to your favorite charity, put an extra eight dollars in the plate at your worship service, or pay it forward at Starbucks. If you can’t spare eight dollars, go to Wal-Mart and pick up eight items off the floor that don’t belong there in Jay’s honor.

Here’s hoping everyone finds the friendship of someone like Jay before they leave this earth. The best thing you can do to help others with autism is to understand them, to see their soul shining through and help them shine.

To read the memorial page for Jay click this link Jay’s Memorial Blog- the picture above is my daughter Jessica with Jay. Jay’s favorite song was “Kryptonite” by Three Doors Down. He loved it when she wore this shirt. The first blog post on the previous link is from my youngest son. Jay made a huge impact on our family.

Teacher Enthusiasm

My daughter is just beginning her career as a teacher. She is changing careers and I couldn’t be more proud. She finished her student teaching in December and is currently teaching a long term substitute position for a fourth grade class.  This morning she got up at 2 a.m. because she was so excited. Her students have been on spring break for a week.  She went out every day to work on bulletin boards and lessons.  She has something really exciting planned for her anticipatory set on the Southwest Unit they start today.  She is going to dress up like a cowgirl and rope a little wooden horse. Her cowboy hat belonged to her Uncle Jim who was a proud farmer and she comes from a long line of Texans. The wooden horse was hand carved by her grandfather who was born and raised in Texas. He grew up on a dairy farm. It will be a fun way to kick off the unit and make it real for the kids.

She couldn’t wait to get back to school to see those 25 smiling faces bound into the room.  I thought I’d take a moment on the blog to ask you to share what excites you the most about teaching? What do you do to make it real for the kids?

Please write in and let us know. I think people would love to read about the excitement we get from sharing knowledge with the students.  What do you get excited about?

For Students with Hyperacusis

You might not know what hyperacusis is, but you do know that some of your students are extremely reactive to sounds. We have all had students who put their hands over their ears when they entered the gymnasium, or the fire alarm sounded. For some of our students, this might be hyperacusis.  Here is a great page discussing hyperacusis- http://www.hyperacusisresearch.org/  

Here are some suggestions to help in school and at home:

Since most people do not use the drawstrings on their hoodie sweatshirts, a great solution is a hooded sweatshirt that has earbuds instead of drawstrings.  You can check out what these look like at gizmag.  The Hoodie Buddie would be a great solution for students to wear in school. When the noise becomes more than they can take, they can pick up the ear buds and put them in their ears.  I have witnessed some not so great solutions that made the student stand out and look different from their peers: lime green earplugs sticking out of the student’s ears, giant headphones like the airport employees wear, and the old giant headphones from listening labs. I like for the student to look as typical as possible and no one else is walking around with giant headphones.  If a school really wanted to integrate and make all the students love being at school, the school could make it a rule that students were allowed to listen to music during class changing period. the school could put a limit on this. “We will allow headphone use for all students during class changing periods as long as tardies remain below 1%.” The students would be motivated to police each other to retain this privilege. This would make all the students happy and the students with special needs would not stand out at all during class changing period.

In my Building Behavioral Expertise Class in Morton, PA, one of the participants came up with the idea to take a girls stretchy wide headband and put earbuds running through the headband. The young lady could wear the headband and when the noise go to be too loud, she could pull the earbuds and place them into her ears to block out some of the noise.

  • Of course, tennis balls on the bottoms of chairs to alleviate the screeching of chair tips on the tile floors is a solution
  • Allow the student to eat lunch with a group of friends in an empty classroom- don’t isolate the student
  • Seating the student away from air vents and overhead projectors for the SmartBoard
  • Seating the student away from the door
  • Use a pool noodle and a pillowcase. Put one outside the door inside the pillowcase and then slide the other pool noodle inside the pool noodle and slide the middle of the pillowcase under the door (You will need to make the pillow case thinner so that it is just about 3 inches larger than 2 pool noodles side by side
  • Put a decorated piece of foam over the loudspeaker in the room – you will still be able to hear the announcement- but it will lessen the severity of it

Please share your ideas

Any other ideas you have to share would be appreciated. I’m really hoping to come up with more viable solutions than Shrek colored ear plugs sticking out of a student’s ears, or cotton balls, or giant foam headphones.

Rewards for Students, Staff, and Parents




 Many people believe that we should not reward students for good behavior. I hear things like:

  • “Children should be intrinsically motivated.”
  • “Those kids should come to school and be good.  I shouldn’t have to do anything.”

So, I’d like you to watch this video or at least a few minutes of this video. Do you think there is anything wrong with what the parents are doing in this video to encourage this young girl to begin walking? They are cheering her on and clapping for her every little achievement. Soon she will be walking around like this picture I found on a google search of images:  zombie cell phone picture. Why do we stop cheering accomplishments? I think the reason we stop is because some people erroneously thought the rewards were supposed to be tangible. I read a great book on the Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. I took the author’s ideas about adults and paired them with my ten years of research on students. For ten years, I have been asking students this question: “What would mean the world to you? What could an adult give you that would let you know you had done a good job? By the way, it can’t cost anything.”  Based on their answers, here is what I think:

I believe your rewards should come from all these areas:

1) Quality time with adults and peers

2) Escape from a task or chore

3) Earning special privileges

4) Physical touch- like high fives or special handshakes

5) Earning leadership roles

6) Social praise

7) Special assistance (help with a chore, task, etc.)

8) Tangibles

Notice: Tangibles are last. Many reward programs focus on tangibles first and I believe children want attention and recognition much more than they truly want tangibles. The answers I get are amazingly simple. Students and children want us to notice them and give them time and attention.

Here’s my most poignant story.

I was riding a bus in a major metropolitan city. The matron on the bus walked up to me in the middle of the route and told me the boy behind me was the number one worst student on the bus (a middle school student with his hood pulled up over his head) and the student across the seat from him was the second worst student on the bus. After I thought the students had time to calm down from hearing the matron say these horrible things about them, I turned around and said, “You know, I’m not really here looking for bad kids. I’m a researcher and I’m here to train the bus drivers. But I do have a question for you, if you want to answer it. I asked the boys the question above. The first young man sat with his head down for a bit and then he took down his hood and I saw the most adorable middle school dimple faced young man looking at me. He started talking in an animated voice. He said, “Oh my gosh, I see people throw footballs and when they throw them, the footballs go straight. When I throw a football it goes all wonky. If someone could teach me how to throw a football straight. That would mean the world to me.” (This…..??????? is the worst kid on the bus) The second young man said (and I quote) “I suck at spelling. If somebody could teach me that i after e stuff (he really needed to know the rule there) that would really help because I can’t spell anything. That would mean a lot to me.”

I have heard things like, “Tell me you appreciate the fact that I got up and came to school today.” “Write a job recommendation for me.” “Play checkers with me, like my dad used to.” (from a little boy whose father had passed away unexpectedly.) It’s really pretty simple. The kids don’t really want the stickers, the candy bars, or the little toys in the McDonald’s Happy Meals. They want our eyeballs on them.

Here is my research- there are sections for parents, teachers, and administrators.

If you go to the material section on http://www.behaviordoctor.org and scroll down to rewards you will find 32 pages of free rewards which is the second link. I also have separated out 100 ways parents can reward their children at home for good behavior at school.

I’m sure this post will pick up a troll who still thinks children should not be rewarded or recognized for good behavior. I have two questions for you?

  • “How is that working out for you in your setting?”
  • “Do you work for free?”

I did have a troll once in an earlier post who wrote me and said my “stuff” (he didn’t call it that) was pure garbage.  When he wanted to get kids to do things, he just twisted their arms up behind their backs and they did exactly what he wanted them to do. I told him that if I knew who he was, I would turn him over to the authorities. 

Check out the free rewards page- you will see the kinds of things on there that students and kids have told me they would like. They just want recognition, attention, help, and maybe just a little fun in their day.

Barometric Pressure and Behavior

I believe barometric pressure affects behavior in children and adults. With the recent wave of polar vortex weather, we have seen a huge increase in behavioral issues and a huge variance in barometric pressure.  If you will go to http://www.wunderground.com/history and put in your zip code and then put in the previous month, you will be able to see the history of your own barometric pressure for your city. 

Here is a picture of the barometric pressure for Olathe, Kansas (a school district I work with quite frequently).



This is the graph for the month of February. You can see how the barometric pressure in one month’s time has huge variances. How does this relate to behavior? Thomas Schory has conducted research finding a connection between barometric pressure and patients with psychiatric conditions. Here is an interesting article citing Schory http://www.ehow.com/facts_6612124_barometric-pressure-behavior.html. Note the article section discussing the use of corporal punishment being higher on abnormal pressure days.

One of my principal friends in Lawton, Oklahoma was so proud of her statistics. She had gone all year with zero office discipline referrals. On April 21 at 1:45 in the afternoon, three students were sent to her office from different classrooms. All three children had out of the ordinary behavior. I met with her the next day.  We pulled up the barometric pressure for Lawton, Oklahoma looking at hour by hour of the day before. At 1:30 that afternoon, the barometric pressure had taken a huge nose dive.

So, what can you do if you are a principal, educator, parent or therapist working with children on a daily basis? Watch the barometric pressure. When you see a huge change in the barometric pressure, turn everything in your classroom or home into a choice. Here are some samples of equal choices:

  • Do you want to write with the green pencil or the purple pencil?
  • Do  you want to sit in the red chair or the blue chair?
  • Would you like to walk down the hallway beside me or in front of me?
  • Here are 50 math problems, you can only do half of them. You can choose the half you do.
  • You can brush your teeth with the green toothbrush or the yellow toothbrush (provided they are both theirs :) )
  • Do you want to wear your green pajamas or your blue pajamas?

It is so easy to turn anything into a choice.  Why are choices important? Choices keep the synapses firing in the front part of the brain where the child is thinking. We want to keep the child thinking so they do not slip down into the lizard brain where they are just reacting. Decision making is enacted in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. When we offer the student equal choices rather than a threat, we can keep the synapses firing in the prefrontal cortex. If we throw out a threat like, “Do this, or lose your recess. Do this or go to the office.”, the student will immediately go to lizard brain. Lizard brain is the brain stem which means the student is reacting rather than thinking.

When the barometric pressure is out of the normal range, it can affect how you feel. How you feel affects how you react to choices and threats. Here is an article on barometric pressure and moods http://www.catalogs.com/info/health/barometric-pressure-affect-mood.html. Hence, it makes sense to offer choices to students on as much as possible when the barometric pressure is changing to keep them from reacting to the way they feel about the barometric pressure effects on their body.

We have tried this with students and had great results. We tried it with an adult who had autism, intellectual disabilities, bipolar condition, obsessive compulsive disorder and mild cerebral palsy. When offered numerous choices on wacky barometric pressure days he would be a little slower in response; however, he would not lock down and refuse to go to work. Previous to the addition of choices, he would choose to stay in bed and not eat or take his medication when given ultimatums by his staff. 

So, watch the barometric pressure and start turning everything in your classroom, school, or home into a choice when the barometric pressure shoots up or down and you’ll be surprised in the changes it will make for you and your students or children.

Building Relationships

Today I was asked to give a 30 minute keynote address to Capital City Schools in Dover, Delaware.  When I first read the assignment I freaked out.  Thirty-minutes???? How can I impart any knowledge in thirty-minutes?  Then I thought….this is a great challenge because what do classroom teachers do every day?  Teachers have to build relationships with students in a very few minutes as they enter and exit the classroom. It is perfectly fitting that I develop a thirty-minute training on developing relationships.

I told the group about Each One Save Five. Bhaermann and Kopp say a student is less likely to drop out of school if one adult other than their teacher, knows and uses their name in a positive way.  One of my favorite high schools in Weatherford, Oklahoma developed Each One Save Five for their school.  They took the total number of students in the school and divided it by the total number of adults in the school.  This included the custodian, clerical, and even cafeteria workers.  Their number came out to five.  Once a week, each person must make positive contact with their five students. It can be emails, postcards, phone calls to the home answering machine, letters home, notes in the locker or desk, or messages delivered by office aides throughout the day.  Imagine the power we have with just this one tidbit.  Even a bus driver who has very little contact time with a student can learn their name and save them from dropping out of high school.  How many times have we heard a famous person talk about how much trouble they were in when they were young and one adult took an interest in them and turned them around?  It happens a lot.  That is one person making a difference.

The second tidbit I focused on was greeting students at the door using TUMS which is my acronym for interacting with students.  The “T” stands for touch.  We stopped touching children a few years back because we were afraid we were going to end up on the six o’clock news.  A perfectly proper greeting would be to shake a student’s hand. This is touching in a socially appropriate way. Teachers can also do fist bumps, high fives, low fives, pinkie bumps, elbow bumps, or implosion/explosion hand bump. The message to the students is that I value you.  

The “U” stands for use their name in a positive way. Not “Oh Ferris it’s you.” Rather, “Ferris, so good to see you. How was your sister’s birthday party last night?”  Any little message indicating you noticed or remembered something about them. Doing this as the students enter the door can give you a heads up on who is having a good day and who is not.  A few seconds in the hallway before class starts can make all the difference in the world.

The “M” stands for make eye contact.  As a society, we have decrease face time by 62% since the 1950’s.  Albert Einstein once said he feared the day that technology surpassed human connection.  It seems he knew this day was coming. Students today have never known a time without smart phones or technological games. When I was a child, we ate dinner at the dining room table and we talked to each other. When I was a child I played outside when the weather was nice and when it was too cold to play outside we sat at the dining room table playing board games.  All of these activities gave me eye contact with my family and my friends. Today, students eat their meals in front of the television. Children do not play outside or at the dining room table. Children play their games facing screens.  So kids are desperate for face time. Eventually, the students figure it out.  “If I stand up in class and say “F” you, you “F>>>>ing” “B” they get a ton of face time from peers and adults. If we give them eye contact before they have a chance to take it during class, they will not resort to that behavior in the classroom.

The “S” stands for smile.  We are so busy thinking about what we are going to do next that we forget what we are doing with our face.  As a presenter sometimes I look out in the audience and it looks like everyone is mad.  It’s not that they are mad.  They are so busy thinking about what I am saying they fail to smile until I tell a joke. We do this at school in the hallway when we greet the students and each other.  We have 50 balls in the air that we are juggling at any given moment.  Read a joke a day or tell each other jokes in the hallway before the bell rings just to remind ourselves to smile.  

So stand at the door and do “TUMS”.  Turn off your fluorescent lights in your room and put a desk lamp with a 60 watt bulb in it. Play 60 bpm music. Put a thought provoking question on the board for them to ponder and be ready to answer when the lights come on and the music goes off.  If you do these things, you will have less disruptions in the classroom.

I’ll share about the sixty beats per minute and why that is important in another post. Have a wonderful school year. 


Have a Wonderful School Year

Well, the 2013-14  school year is upon us. Educators are starting back and the students will follow quickly.  Behavior Doctor Seminars hopes you have a wonderful year filled with tons of positive successes.  

Please write in this year and brag about your successes.  If you try a new technique, please share it so others can use your success to help a student in their school.  If you are having issues with a student please send in (non-identifying information) about the student and let us brainstorm as a whole group how to solve the issues we deal with on a daily basis.

During the month of August, I have trained bus drivers in Olathe, Kansas and educators in Dover, Delaware; Wilmington, Delaware; Anne Arundel, Maryland; and Waukon, Iowa.  In many of these trainings, the attendees came in on their own time to sit all day and learn behavioral techniques.  I have met so many wonderful people who truly care about children and helping them be successful.  We have many golden apples in our profession and I am proud to say I work in this profession.  The rewards don’t show up in our bank accounts, but we seem to reap thousands of rewards of smiles, high fives, students who struggle and then succeed, and relationships that last a lifetime.

We at Behavior Doctor Seminars hope you have a wonderful 2013-14 school year and that all your students carry you in their hearts as they progress toward their future goals.  Happy New School Year.