Sunday, May 13, 2012

Motivation and creativity: Adolescent special needs and crime

Number one proudly showed mother a bag of candies. The facility went to DEFCON 2 - on Mother's day morning. This was his way of confessing to a hot crime.

These are the mornings where we are reminded that, even in difficult economic times, society has ample housing for special needs adults

Not that he's doing all that badly. In mid-adolescence his behavior is much improved on years past, and quite a bit better than when he was three to five years old. Alas, the room for error is also much less; a 15 yo doesn't get the latitude of a 5 yo. It probably helps to register with the local police [1], but overall the stakes are higher. Of course.

So, DEFCON 2 it was. Fortunately, we're professionals. Mother calmly asked how he'd come across the candy on a Sunday morning bike ride. He had a ready answer. A construction crew friend gave it to him. Of course this would violate the no-accepting-gift rule, but it is true that he's gotten gear from the construction guys he "supervises" during the work season. Candy on Mother's Day Sunday though? Even he knew that wouldn't fly.

There were two places he could have picked 'em up from, and I hit the managers at both. One didn't carry the candy sample, but the other had jackpot. The good news is he'd paid for 'em, and the clerk remembered how much he pulled out. Stealing from my wallet is more of a learning opportunity than a crisis. Heck, a friend of mine did much worse as a kid and he's a judge now.

Still, there were bad things to rule out. Stealing from my wallet was a problem, but getting paid off by an adult would be far worse. We needed to know where the money came from. Fortunately we were set for the real third degree. The best way to corner a perp, after all, is start with the answers. 

Good cop, bad cop again. The method that works best is calm silence and some leading questions - "We know you know we know". Repeat back what he confesses, guiding him along. Take breaks when he stalls; let him spin out the alibis until they crack. Let him choose who to talk with.

That's where it got interesting. His second alibi was quite creative. It built on a friend's story and through in a bunch of persuasive detail. It only had two big fractures. One was that he got a trophy so big it wouldn't fit in our car -- so he left it at home. He forgot to claim that he'd won a cash prize, thus suggesting he'd stolen cash from the till. Lastly the event took place a week ago -- and there's no way he could hold onto cash that long.

Still, it was the best creative story he's ever told. I didn't know he had it in him. Even as the interrogation proceeded I took mental notes; now I could raise the bar for his creative school work.

Eventually he confessed. He put the remaining funds back in my desk drawer -- easier than handing it over to me. I said owed me $4, so we mowed the neighbors lawn and I called that even. The hardest thing for him was the idea that despite paying me back he didn't get to keep the candy. So I came up with a way for him to earn another $1.50 from his piggy bank and some work and we retrieved one candy box from the garbage.

A good days work overall. I'd already ordered a cash box, but I don't want to remove temptation entirely. Instead I'm going to put my wallet in the cash box, but leave $5 in my drawer. When the money goes, I'll know we have a learning opportunity. If he passes on $5, I'll move it to $10. 


[1] In our community the police like to know which teens are special needs. This won't make any difference under emergent circumstances, but if they're called for shoplifting or they pick a kid up it can.

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