Sunday, March 17, 2013

Adolescent special needs: Sometimes Judo works

#1 was on track to give up on mainstream hockey halfway through the season. I'd been using carrot and (proverbial) stick but he was dug in and sullen. It looked like he was going to lose one of his best growth and happiness sources, that he was going to drop out of hockey just as he'd dropped out of baseball last summer.

I was frustrated, but I could see I wasn't going to win. Better to lose this battle than to lose our relationship.

So when he challenged me to bribe him to finish the season I pulled a Judo move. I stepped back.

I sat down with him at a time I chose -- when he was at his best. I said that now that he was almost an adult, he really had to make his own decisions. I told him I thought he'd gain a lot from continuing and that it would make me happy, but it was his decision. There'd be no prize or reward for finishing the season -- just his usual post-hockey chips or soda. There would be no punishment for dropping out ...

Well ... I cheated a bit on the last. I didn't want him substituting iPhone-zombie-time for his hockey. So there'd be no computer/iPhone use during times he would have been at hockey. He could read or do other activities [1].

Of course, as you can guess from the post title, it worked. At first he was uncertain, but one night we walked through the season schedule. He picked one late night practice he'd skip and one he'd miss due to a High School sports conflict. (He ended up missing only one practice when I was out of town and we couldn't bring him.) After that review he was relaxed and enthusiastic.

I don't know if it was my talk that worked, or the support of his coaches who also had Special Hockey experience, or if a girl he liked said something nice about his hockey. At his age I'm only one of a lot of influences, and probably not the biggest one.

I was surprised that he did so well; I don't think this would have worked in the past. His mind is developing -- he's starting to have more of a sense of time and of future events, and he's starting to work with abstractions like "promises" and "obligations" and "duty" and "honesty". He never used to respond to 'negative' feedback [2], but now he seems to consider consequences a wee bit beyond the immediate.

I don't want to overstate the changes. A bird in the hand is still worth a thousand in the bush. There is progress though, and reason to celebrate another victory. [3].

- fn -

[1] We have very limited household television access.
[2] Hence our heavy use of positive incentives and extinction rather than the balanced approaches that work for most children. We have a neurotypical daughter, and she essentially raised herself with a minuscule parental contribution. Our #2 is at the Asperger's end of the spectrum but is super-sensitive to feedback. #1 is different. Yes, we snort milk out our noses when we read conventional parenting books. 
[3] Our philosophy is to celebrate victory often. So every time we can plausibly declare victory, we do. There should be a name for this philosophy; it results in a lifelong string of repeated victories until the game is called.

See also 

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