Most of us, even if we have never specifically said so, expect our children to grow up to be respectful, kind, productive, and responsible. We hope that these expectations will be met through lots of love, constant gentle (or not-so-gentle) correction, or some other form of osmosis. While this works for some people, it doesn’t work as well for many children (or their parents), and is even less likely to work for people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
The plan for success is very basic, yet we often overlook it, or fail to recognize its importance. The result can be frustrating for everyone involved in a social interaction. Just like last week’s reminder of signs defining expectations as, “No shoes, no shirt, no service,” our plan for success contains the following three components:
1. Define your expectations. If you expect respect, what does that look like, sound like, feel like? Respect is a very abstract concept unless we provide specific examples to help others understand what we expect. This is true of other expectations which we too often refer to in a very ambiguous way: “Follow directions, be kind, don’t be late, do it yourself, ask nicely, use your words, don’t eat too much, go to bed on-time, work harder, etc.” While we’re at it, it can be very helpful to state our expectations in positive terms (i.e. “Please walk in the halls,” rather than “Don’t run.”) Be concise, specific, and yet detailed enough to let others know how to be successful.
2. Provide instruction and strategies to help others meet your expectations. Sometimes they need more information before they can understand what we mean, or sensory or calming strategies to manage their functioning, or visual cues (posters, photos, cue cards) to remind them how to respond effectively. The Social Response Pyramid™, Social Stories™, Social Behavior Mapping™, and Incredible Five Point Scale™ (among others), can be valuable tools for helping people to meet others’ expectations.
3. Just as “No shoes, no shirt, no service” defines how to be successful…and what the consequences will be if the expectations are not met, it’s important that our plan for success includes specific information about consequences for people’s choices (both positive and negative). Then we must allow them to experience those consequences in order to learn how to be successful!
As I coach families around the world, I often get to number 3 in the plan for success, and hear, “Isn’t that mean? I don’t want my child to be upset!”
Is it mean for the electric company to turn off power if bills aren’t paid? Is it mean for police to give expensive tickets for breaking traffic laws? Is it mean for a teacher to give a lower grade if homework isn’t turned in on-time (or is not done according to the teacher’s requirements)? Is it mean for an employer to dock pay—or terminate employment—if an employee does not meet expectations for attendance or performance? Of course, the flip side of that could also read, “Is it mean for the electric company to continue to provide power to those who pay their bills? Is it mean for police to allow people who follow traffic laws to go about their business in peace? Is it mean for teachers to give good grades to students who meet their requirements? Is it mean for employers to allow employees with good attendance records and demonstrated productivity to keep their jobs, or to be promoted with greater pay and responsibility?”
Regardless of how you feel about the appropriateness or “fairness” of each of the above scenarios, the truth is that our society can only function with clearly defined—and enforced—expectations. We do our children a great disservice if we do not teach and model these basic truths at home.
The good news is that I’ve seen countless families experience and enjoy success when they follow this basic three-step plan. It’s my hope that you will also reap the rewards of extra time and effort that goes a long way toward helping everyone to meet expectations!