Blogging about life in Minnesota, raising our six kids with Down syndrome while battling Breast Cancer.

Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor in the morning the devil says, "Oh shit! She's up!"

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


 Angela is queen of what is commonly known as "attention seeking behavior". You've all seen this in your own child. Your toddler sits in a high chair at mealtime, and drops the spoon onto the floor. You know, the "Drop game"? It starts out as a cause and effect thing, "I can drop this and mommy picks it up! How fun!" Probably one of the most annoying games a toddler plays, I think. But somewhere a long the way, a switch flips. The family is talking away at dinner, the toddler feels left out....drop goes the spoon. That's the toddler way of saying, "Hello! I'm over here and I like to be part of the conversation too!"

That is "attention seeking behavior." As a child gets older, this behavior becomes more sophisticated. How many of you have children who fake cry in an attempt to get what they want? What about whining? (surely none of your children whine, I'm sure!" Yep, those are attention seeking behaviors. 

Axel does a lot of attention seeking stuff. We have it pretty much nipped in the bud at home, but school is another story, and they're falling for it. I'm a bit surprised that school staff doesn't have a better handle how to deal with some of this stuff. I mean, a lot of it is basic...if you understand attention seeking behavior!

Today was school picture day, and I realized after Axel left that not only did I not send the paper, but he was wearing a shirt that wouldn't work well, AND I wanted the picture without his brace and school is a little leery of taking it of. (understandably so!) So, I went to school, arriving just as Axel's bus arrived there with him. 

Oh, how interesting to watch from the parking lot, when neither staff NOR Axel know that I'm there. Axel is a little *%$# at school! It is taking TWO adults to get him off the bus and into school! HUH???? Let me describe it for you, and then I'll go back and tell you where the problems are.

There are 6 or 7 kids getting off the bus, and four aids to help them. Axel is the last one off. TWO aids are right there to take each hand. As they walk into school Axel does the flop and drop, starts kicking staff, and refusing to walk. Now they each have one hand and another on his bus harness, using that to hand onto him. Axel is laughing hysterically at all of this.  He screams, he kicks, he laughs, he sits. Whatever he can think of. It's like wrestling a spider monkey. This battle lasts all the way into the building, down the hall, and into his classroom. It's a fairly long walk!

I was shocked to see this today, because he would never even consider doing this for me. He would get off the bus nicely and walk into school independently like any other 10 year old. 

Ok, so let's go back. School has 2 staff walking him in. This is completely understandable because one person cannot wrestle him, at least not in a way that's legal for school to do so. Axel has successfully comandeered the attention of two adults. With their hands all over him. HEAVEN for  him!

If staff were to take the hand-holding out of the equation, he would not be able to do the pulling, kicking and flop-n-drop that he does. They would remove the FUN! Axel WANTS to go into the building and be with friends.  If they stood with him RIGHT THERE until he stood up and walked on his own, they would solve the problem. If it's pouring down rain, or not otherwise pleasant outside, he's not going to want to stay. 

Now, there are risks with this tactic. He could bolt. Fortunately Axel does not run fast at all, so getting hold of him is easy. I would be plopping him down on his butt, right there in the sidewalk and not going any further until he told me he was ready to walk nice. They could, as soon as he gets off the bus,  give him a job, "Oh, Axel, can you carry this big heavy thing into school for me?" (it could be a playground cone or something fun that he doesn't usually get to mess with) which would very quickly take his mind off the fact he wanted to spice up the walk into school. This gives them the opportunity to PRAISE the good behavior, "Wow, you're such a big help. Thank you for helping me get this into school. Look how nice you're walking into school, what a big boy!" etc. 

Today one of his aids said to me that they take a lot of breaks to walk around school. HUH? Breaks from WHAT? The expectations for him in class are minimal at best, and he has a very normal (if not better than average) attention span for a 10 year old!!!  He doesn't need a "break" from his class. What HAS happened is he has quickly learned when he starts pulling stuff he can get out of the room....and all expectations. 

I have to say, so far Axel's behaviors have been much easier for us to deal with than Angela's were at the same age. This is mostly due to the fact Angela's behaviors have a neurological component (post stroke/brain injury and seizures) which means some of her behavior served no function. Axel's behaviors have true function: Attention seeking, avoidance of tasks or situations, or finding ways to control his environment. When you can find the function of the behavior, you can address the function, ultimately decreasing or eliminating the behavior. It took us several years and help from an amazing in-home behavioral staff, to figure out what was going on with Angela. It wasn't until the seizures I'd been suspecting for years were finally diagnosed that we were able to get a handle on things. She still gives us a run for our money on occasion, but fortunately for all of us, those are few and far between. Axel's behaviors are much more black and white, but if you're not familiar with "functional behavior" and how it works, it can be hard to see what's happening when you're in the heat of the moment with a child who is acting out.


travcat said...


I think I need you to come down to Atlanta and whip my kids into shape! I can never seem to think clearly when they act up. I get flustered and they know it! You are so calm and know just how to handle things! Please, how can I be more like you!!!

Leah S. said...

HAHAH! I think my kids would argue the "always so calm" comment! And, because I KNOW how to handle things doesn't mean I always remember to do it. It is SO much easier to see what's happening in a situation from the outside looking in. When you're in the heat of it, it's tough.