Book review-Supporting Positive Behavior in Children and Teens with Down Syndrome

I recently bought and read a book at a recommendation in a Down Syndrome parenting support group, and I’d like to share about it because I thought it was great! The title is in the blog title here-Supporting Positive Behavior in Children and Teens with Down Syndrome and the subtitle is “The Respond but Don’t React Method” It is written by David Stein, Psy D. First off, for you to decide whether you’re up for getting and reading this book I will let you know this-it is a fairly short and easy read, it includes examples, and it is both specific and general. So, if you think that sounds like something you would be up for, I don’t think you’ll regret it.

This book is written by a psychologist, and having a social work background myself-it was not totally unfamiliar.It was a nice review and summary of all the basics of behavior antecedents and reinforcement and of what I have learned about Down Syndrome over the past 5 years. The main take-aways from this book that I recalled just after I finished reading it were as follows:

1) Emotional reactions are even more exciting to those with Down Syndrome than they are to most kids/teens. The author explains this more in regard to the brain makeup and the language processing differences and how people with Down Syndrome excel in emotions processing. For me, this was just a good reminder of what I already had practiced by coaching parents to do as a mental health therapist and as many parents learn as they go. I also try to remember that language processing issue and to quit being so wordy as I might be unfairly thinking that Ethan (my son with Down Syndrome) is taking in these mini-lectures. ( I try not to, but it’s what we adults do!)

2)Learning rules is NOT the time for building new language. I think since I’ve tried to have the mindset that “I need to have high expectations and let my son with Down Syndrome rise to that rather than sell him short on his abilities.” While that is true, I have found from this book that I have probably been using too advanced or too lengthy language when disciplining and correcting Ethan. It needs to be simple and with a visual, if possible, to set him up for success.

3)Preventive rather than reactive strategies are better to change behavior. This is always the ideal but thankfully he isn’t too “psychologist-y” (in the face of how most probably view them!)and DOES discuss handling discipline after the behaviors occur. Most of it is on changing things, looking for root causes of behaviors, and deciding when you may be labeling something a problem behavior that frankly, isn’t. Our big issue that made me want to buy this book is throwing (and no surprise-it pops up in the book and is discussed quite a bit in Down Syndrome parenting groups online!) My son throws not just to say he’s done with something (that actually decreased quite a bit once his language improved and even with signing before that around age 2), but he also throws for enjoyment…ALL the time. So it seems. Without having done a formal functional behavior assessment (which is discussed in the book), I could tell he does it more often when he is tired or in environments with less structure (at home… yay :/ ) Reading the book gave me some things to put some research and expert advice behind some things I felt was probably the “right” way to handle it (ignore the innocuous lightweight objects being thrown right in front of him-correct and substitute when hard objects are thrown especially at random trajectories around hte room or toward someone (and that is almost ALWAYS unintentional-but it IS very unsafe.) The author is realistic in discussing intervening for safety but makes good points that there really aren’t reasons to react and it even addressed my other concern about WHY Ethan throws so very often. It mentioned repetitive and even OCD-like behaviors being for comfort or to “unwind” and even mentioned teens with Down Syndrome watching the same 3 minute youtube videos on repeat or doing self=talk. (I was intrigued to read about teens toward the end of the book to see what things we might see crop up later.) It was comforting but I think some of Ethan’s throwing is still problematic because it is a safety issue.

In case readers wonder, I’ll go ahead and say it-bolting IS addressed in detail as is “stop and flop.” While there are some specific behaviors addressed, the book does not touch on everything because then as the author pointed out-busy parents probably wouldn’t read it! The principles given are helpful in providing a way that you as the parent can handle whatever behavior comes about to a certain point and sure you might end up needing some professional help temoporarily-for your child or you 😀 Overall I felt like reading it and understanding more about the way my son’s brain works and how the language delays he has might make him react differently to things helps me be more patient with him.