Connor struggles with choices. For many of us it can be difficult to decide which car to purchase, or whether to accept the terms of a new contract. We can vacillate over whether to wear the blue shirt or the red sweater, whether to get the chicken or the steak, whether we really want that third glass of wine (we do). On some days it might be a challenge to just decide what we want for breakfast!
Now imagine that every decision of every day was that difficult. It would be easy to fall into a pattern of eating the same thing, watching the same videos, wearing the same shoes everyday to avoid making any decisions. You could feel confident about your life because you knew what the day was going to bring: the same thing it brought yesterday.
The other obstacle Connor faces in making new choices is that he struggles to communicate that new choice. With his limited vocabulary it is much easier to say “goldfish”, which he’s said a thousand times before, than it is to learn a new word and then have to call it up on command to label your new choice.
To get Connor away from his rut, and to aid him in his communication, I made him a choice board. A choice board is a visual display off all choices available, usually with written labels of the picture.
To get him comfortable with the idea of using the choice board to communicate, I decided to start off with food choices. Connor only eats a limited number of items, nearly all toddler/preschool favorites, to be found on any kids menu in the country.
Despite the fact that there were only a few items to choose from, Connor still struggled to communicate what he wanted on a given day. I would literally have to go through the list of food and ask him if he wanted each item.
“Do you want pizza? No”
“Do you want chicken? No”
“Do you want a hot dog? No mommy!!”
“Do you want a grilled cheese? WAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!”
Connor definitely had a limit on the number of questions you could ask him before falling apart. I can’t imagine how frustrating it is to know what you want and be unable to communicate that.
The choice board has been a pleasant change.
Initially Connor didn’t want to use the choice board. He tore it all down…twice.
But after allowing him to pick anything he wanted from the board and get it, the choice board has produced positive results. This is a typical conditioning technique. The positive reinforcement ties the child to the exercise, building good feelings towards the outcome of the choice board, allowing for more rules to be inserted later, as the child grows accustomed to the board. So yes, this meant that I made biscuits every morning four mornings in a row, and yes, Connor got ice cream for dinner one night. But here we are, two weeks later, and if Connor is struggling to communicate something, he happily goes to the choice board.
I used Google Images to find icons of familiar and preferred items. I then printed them out and laminated them. So yeah, I got to use my laminator! And then I got to use my label maker!! (It was a pretty awesome day.)
Initially the idea was that Connor would choose what he wanted for each meal and place the icon there. Yeah….so that didn’t work. For now, I have reorganized all the food under each meal and Connor simply needs to point to the item he wants. I then require him to state out loud “I want _______”. It’s been a process, but it’s working.
We’ll see if it lasts! If it does, we’ll use a choice board for activities. Perhaps I’ll even get Connor to help me plan his food for lunch!
One day at a time!
If you’d like to build your own choice board, here is a great link from Hands in Autism:
This is a pdf document that provides instructions as well as sample icons to use on your choice board.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions, I’d love to talk about it!