How to Make Sure Your Child or Client with Autism is Happy

In the autism field, I don’t think we talk about happiness near enough. So, today, I’m going to dive in and discuss how to Make Sure Your Child or Client with Autism is Happy.

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Last year, I did a video blog called Programming for Happiness. In that blog, I talk about a keynote presentation I heard Doctor Denis Reid give years ago, that really changed the way I viewed happiness. He said that happiness is really tied to our ability to make choices.

My goal for my son Lucas, who has autism and is a young adult, and for all the children I have worked with who have autism, is for them to be as happy and independent as possible. It’s actually not much different than my goal for my typically developing son, Spencer, who is in college now. I want him to make good choices that lead to his happiness, and to be as independent as possible. But for Lucas and other kids and adults with moderate to severe autism, who can’t make choices very easily and can’t tell us what makes them happy, it is kind of tricky to actually determine if they’re happy.

Lucas can’t tell us, for instance, which job he likes better, or that he’d rather do a puzzle than take a walk, or what his favorite movie or TV show is. So, we need to observe and document his happiness across activities. Lucas’s behavior analyst came up with a data sheet years ago, when he was trying out different jobs and vocational tests. We still use this data sheet today. His one-to-one assistant takes data on the job, the length of the activity, number of prompts, Lucas’s affect across that activity. Affect is rated in terms of low, medium, or high, and affect is basically happiness. Does he appear to be happy? Is he smiling? So, low means he doesn’t appear to be that happy. Medium is middle of the road, and high means he’s happy, he’s smiling across that activity.

In addition to measuring and documenting his affect, we also document his speed. If he’s going slow, he’s not as motivated as when he’s going fast. And then we also have a medium category. We also have her document any hint of problem behavior or agitation. After we had this data, the behavior analyst was able to graph the data and determine which jobs and activities led to higher affect, fast speed, low prompts, and no problem behavior. And so now, we know when Lucas is happy. When people ask me if Lucas is happy at his pre-vocational program that he attends every day, I can confidently say yes. And we have data to prove it, too!

In addition to giving kids as many choices as possible, we also need to be more observant, manage developmental regressive behavior, and document signs of happiness in our children and client.

How do you ensure happiness in your child or clients?

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And I’ll see you next week.