One of the essential elements of ABA therapy, used in the treatment of autism, revolves around the "reinforcement" of desired behavior. It can be a challenge to find something that motives these kids, so food is often used as a reinforcer—even candy, cookies or chips broken into small pieces. David is not really motivated by food, however. It may seem contrary to any preconceived notion of an autistic child, but David is a cheap date and works the hardest for praise. He loves to be praised, plus a smile, tickle or high-five--once he finally learned how to high five.
Consequently, Michael and I are quick to praise David when he is working hard or practicing a desired behavior. It can be tiring, however, to be in perpetual cheerleader mode. Thankfully, I do not have the pom-poms or short skirt, but I often sport the fake smile and artificial enthusiasm. And instead of something along the lines of "Go Defense" my cheers consist more of "Good Talking…Nice Waiting…Good Job Standing…Nice Listening!"
Last week, Michael and I were waiting with Andrew at the front door for his carpool to arrive. David came to the door as Andrew was leaving and started to wave, again another learned behavior. Michael said in his most enthusiastic voice, but purely for my benefit, "David, nice non-verbal communication!"
David responded almost immediately and as if on cue, by emitting a different noise—what in David's vernacular is referred to as "yatz." It was like he had been thinking, "You want non-verbal communication? I can give you non-verbal communication." Michael and I both laughed, but I noticed that Michael did not offer the usual praise, "David, nice passing of gas" to reinforce that behavior.