Switch your thinking from assuming the child’s actions are behavior-related and into detective mode and you will see a big improvement in your ability to understand your unique learner.

Being an effective detective of your child’s behavior must start with a non-judgmental attitude. To become an active student of a unique learner presupposes three important facts:

  • That the unique learner is already equipped with the necessary neurophysiologic compliment to be successful in adapting to the world around him or her. Through this idea, it becomes the job of the adult observer to reserve judgment and to watch the child blossom, much like a lotus blossom opens in a harmonious and natural way.
  • That patterns are apparent in which behaviors and events either contribute to organized and coherent actions or they contribute to non‑productive chaos and incoherence.
  • That an innate drive exists in all of us leading to desirable, organized social behavior. Psychologists refer to this behavior as “being in the zone”, “following the game plan”, or being in the “flow”. It occurs when a person is involved in a difficult task that has meaning. Involvement in such a task provides purpose for the individual, leading to happiness and self‑satisfaction.

Why Detective Mode Matters

Have you ever wondered what in the world your child was thinking?

I think every parent would say yes to this, but it is particularly true when you are the parent of a unique learner. It can be hard to relate to an individual who reaches conclusions from an entirely different point of view. If you have a unique learner, you know just what I mean.

If you can suspend your assessment of your child’s actions as neither “good” nor “bad”, you can learn a lot about what is actually happening in their brain and body.

I call this “detective mode”. It is the non‑judgmental observation of everything a child does. If you watch patiently, your child will show you what does and doesn’t help them focus and learn.

Remember, even when it doesn’t make any sense to you, children have a reason for all that they do. Parents and teachers can assist by helping create an environment that promotes learning-readiness.

Use Your Inner Detective to Tune in an Ideal Brain Mode

Many unique learners, and particularly those on the autism spectrum, need parents and teachers to mindfully observe them and bring into the student’s world that which promotes the most ideal brain mode.

Knowing how and when to slow down or to speed up a child’s level of participation is mission critical. It requires the adult to tune into their “inner detective” and to observe, in a non‑judgmental way, what contributes to their child’s or student’s positive and negative behaviors.

By developing a mental roster of triggers through your observations, you will be able to identify the triggers that contribute to acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. This non‑intrusive method allows your child to reveal what improves their coherent thinking and focus, and what causes chaos.

Naturally, you would be actively seeking what seems to promote positive behaviors. As you discover new information about your unique learner, you will also be able to diminish their negative behavioral triggers.

The act of seeking to discover what promotes positive behavior is an important first step that requires a compassionate and non‑judgmental detective attitude on the part of the adult.

As a detective, you must shift your thinking to consider a new idea: The child is your teacher and they teach you about what they need.

Observing a unique learner requires suspending any judgments or assumptions regarding their behavior. One must sort out which behaviors organize performance and lead to coherence, also known as being “learning‑ready”.

From Chaos to Coherence

When you see your child act in total harmony with the world’s expectation of him or her, then coherence creates a very desirable basis for learning. Let your child show you how he or she manages to balance their own chaos‑to‑coherence continuum. Through their actions, children will show you what winds them up and calms them back down.

Watch and learn.

Remember that during this observation period, the adult becomes the student and learns about the child without judgment.

Even observe your child when you know they are placing themselves in, what may seem to you, to be a safe but excessive and overstimulating environment. For example, image your child walking into the TV room where a hockey game is being played and older brother and his friends are loudly cheering.

Observe the child’s response during the overstimulation event, after the event, and also after a considerable time later. Watch for changes in their eating pattern or their response to later social interactions as well as noticing any change in sleep pattern.

You are looking for every bit of information you can observe about their actions. This will help you to understand the way the overstimulating event either provides appropriate coherence or inappropriate chaos (causing a breakdown in performance and behavior).

By way of contrast, also note the methods that the child seeks more inhibitory actions and attempts to calm‑down and slow‑down through peaceful activities. Some children might hide and others may fall asleep.

Thinking about activities that would prevent sleep behaviors by making a child overexcited and comparing them to activities that would tend to help sleep behaviors by causing the child to calm‑down and slow‑down offers a good illustration of inhibitory and facilitating activities.

Prevention of sleeping behaviors by causing children to be too wound‑up before bed could be viewed as facilitatory activities. They excite and rev‑up the individual. These facilitating activities wake‑up a fatigued brain.

Being revved‑up can be appropriate. Facilitation is a strategy that competitive tennis players use when they quickly rock from side‑to‑side or jump up and down to get keyed‑up for the next point. It is desirable for the brain to be keyed‑up for learning math or studying for a test. Too excitable, however, is non‑productive.

Calming (inhibitory) and revving up (facilitatory) activities will vary between children. Some activities may be exhausting for one child while another is appropriately awakened and revved up by the same activities. A good example is an event like a friend’s birthday party. Some kids manage great, others quickly overload.

What you are looking to discover is what is calming or revving up for your particular unique learner.

Detective Mode Reminds You That It Isn’t “Bad” Behavior

There are times when your child’s behavior may seem so strange that you just don’t know what to think. Like many parents, you may have begun your journey with your unique learner using a, “You just need to try harder” mindset.

You may have worked to change their behavior through discipline administered as punishment and restrictions as well as incentives and rewards. Likely, you found these all to be ineffective at truly changing your child’s confusing behavior.

This is because your child’s actions can’t truly be classified as “behavior” in the way that we typically define it. Typically, we define behavior and qualify it as good or bad, rather than the true definition which is, simply, the way in which a person acts.

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Suzanne Cresswell Administrator
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