Susan's Blog

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Magic Feather

One of the best parts of Dumbo is when Timothy the mouse gives Dumbo a “magic feather,” to help him fly. Of course, the feather is just a feather, but Dumbo doesn’t know that. Or maybe he does, but he believes so much in Timothy that the feather does, in effect, help Dumbo fly. It is only when he drops it that Timothy tells Dumbo the truth, and Dumbo realizes he has the power to fly.

For a while now, nearly a year, we have had trouble insisting with Nat, and following through on demands when he refuses. This started back in May, during our difficult spring. Nat would fly into a rage, stomping, biting his arm, screaming, and sometimes pinching and scratching other, if we followed through with a request, even if it was a seemingly small thing, like, “No, Nat, I can’t get the salt and pepper right now, can you get it, Nat?”
“Mommy will get salt and pepper.”
“Nat, come on, you get it.”
“Mommy WILL GET IT!!”

It was a test of wills and I, the soft, peace-keeping Mushy Mommy Libra, would almost always lose to my fiery Scorpio son. Sometimes, feeling like I was walking on eggshells and cutting my own feet to keep the peace, I would get the damned salt and pepper. Ick.

Nat’s school staff have come in periodically to help, by observing and giving me techniques for dealing with this. I have written previously in earlier posts, about M and how smart, dedicated, and kind she is, and her ugly yellow token board. The UYTB was to be used to get Nat to follow directions, in the familiar method they use (successfully) at school. Nat has to follow five directions, and then he earns 5 tokens/pennies, and can buy a preferred activity (reading, break, music, video, snack, laundry — yes laundry is one of his favorite things to do, Nat is pretty much the perfect man, if we could just get rid of the aggression — ).

I’ll admit that when I first saw the UYTB, I thought, “This is my intervention? A laminated taxi-cab-yellow reward system? Hello? Haven’t I been using those for years?” M explained that this would get Nat used to following directions given by me; that it would work towards breaking old habits and creating a new dynamic between us, where I make a demand and he complies. I really trust M, so I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and follow her directions to the T, (or to the UYTB) and see if there was a difference in our homelife.

I found myself thinking about how I am (still, after all this time) on some level uncomfortable with being an authority figure. Perhaps even on some level with being an adult. Sometimes I think, “Wow! I can’t believe I’m doing this thing (whatever it is, such telling Max he must earn money over the summer, or cooking five different meals at once) it’s as if I’m a Real Grownup!” And Nat, ever sensitive to how certain people are feeling, probably detects my malaise in this role. Maybe M detected it, too, by observing how I drop my demands. To be fair to myself, our household was not very conducive to follow-through, because of Nat’s volatile moods.

M told me to set myself a goal of using the UYTB twice a day. That way I would not feel overwhelmed by its strangeness, by the alien formal dynamic it sets up, between Nat and me. So that is what I have been doing, and I have been becoming increasingly comfortable with the UYTB system. Every day (just about), I have a 5-part conversation with Nat, who definitely takes the UYTB seriously, and I have him also do some household chore. He earns whatever he has chosen.

Even if the activity is something he used to get “for free,” he is now willing to earn it. That is very interesting and gratifying to me. Last night, I was tired and just barely pulled dinner together. Nat started going on and on about how I should get the juice. I told him he should get it. I suddenly saw the UYTB in my mind. I imagined how I should have had Nat earn tokens by setting the table. It was too late, now. I had already set most of it. But — he could get the juice. I could imagine him earning it. I knew I had to power to insist.

So I did. He got the juice. He slapped the table hard, but he got the juice. Is this development because he is so comfortable with and accustomed to the UYTB at school? Or is this progress because the UYTB makes me more comfortable with being an authority with Nat?

Perhaps I should consult with Mrs. Jumbo, my alter ego.


It has to be increasingly confusing to be Nat as he works to struggle through adolescence into adulthood. I vote for consistency across the board (no pun about the yellow board intended). He experiences success with the board (the juice is the evidence)so that tells us that particular technique is working (for now at least) and it provides a structured tool for you to follow.

Weighing in is easy to do.

— added by Anonymous on Wednesday, March 19, 2008 at 7:46 pm

Keep it up girl, and compliance will come. Most of the time, we remind Jared of what he wants and that will get him going to comply. I had to hide my shock and surprise when he allowed me to wash his hair on Sunday. Lisa

— added by Anonymous on Thursday, March 20, 2008 at 11:43 am

Susan, I understand how you feel. Things were very tough around here last year with my daughter, Debby, so we welcomed the in-home ABA people into our lives. That type of behavior management is completely foreign to me and then there’s always the issue of putting one child on a rewards system when the others are not. But the whole thing did get us through to a better, safer place than we were, so I’m not knocking it.

BTW, your workshop was great last week 🙂


— added by goodnightgracey on Thursday, March 20, 2008 at 5:20 pm