AFNIC Helps Neurologically Impaired Children
By D.J. Powers, President of AFNIC
The Association for Neurologically Impaired Children (AFNIC) serves neurologically impaired children whose inability to handle frustration causes them to have violent rages or tantrums. These children often have a diagnosis of Tourette Syndrome, Aspergers Syndrome, bipolar disorder, or other neurologically-based disorder. They are not emotionally disturbed and by all other respects are normal. If mishandled, these rages can occur on a daily basis, take from ten minutes to two hours, and involve screaming, destruction of property, and physical harm to the child and others. An estimated 1 in every 850 children suffers from a class of neurological disorders that impair their ability to handle frustration and produce disruptive rages or tantrums.
The rages result in serious problems for families and schools. First, there is the obvious safety concern. We have children that have scars from biting themselves, have physically attacked their parents/siblings/teachers, and have destroyed untold amounts of property. Second, these rages take tremendous resources from the family and school. At home, these children require virtually 99% of the family's time - either in dealing with a rage or trying to avoid one. Parents are so emotionally and financially drained from dealing with the child, most end up divorcing. At school, teachers and administrators spend inordinate amounts of time dealing with the behavioral issues, taking time and resources away from teaching other children. Special education fights over these children often cost schools and families tens of thousands of dollars per child. Finally, this problem results in wasted opportunities. The behavior issues are so pervasive, these kids often receive little education, despite their usually above-average intelligence. In addition, many of these kids have special talents - in science, music, or art - that are never developed.
Parents and schools currently address this problem through traditional reward and punishment methods. Unfortunately, those methods do not solve the underlying neurological disability, so do not solve the problem. Indeed, because punishment increases the child's frustration, the reward and punishment system actually escalates the problem by increasing the frequency and severity of the rages. This approach results in a death spiral - more punishment results in worse behavior, which results in even more punishment, wasting more and more family and school resources, until the child is hospitalized or enters the juvenile justice system.
We have developed a program for children with neurological disabilities that has been extraordinarily successful both at home and at school. We have brought this program to the families and schools of children with severe neurological disabilities all across Texas. Parents and teachers have been overwhelmed at how well this program works, but word of our success has spread to more people than we have the resources to help.
AFNIC's approach is to create an accessible environment for these children by removing the triggers that cause their frustrations and lead to rages. Most importantly, this involves letting the child "get away" with minor matters and the removal of the reward and punishment strategy. We pick our battles, and limit those to safety issues. Thus, rather than punish the child after a rage, we identify the cause of the frustration and remove the trigger. Over time, we drastically reduce the frequency and severity of the rages. Then we teach the child how to handle frustration and slowly add the triggers back into their environment.
I'll give you just two examples of this program's success.
The first child, a sixth grader in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, was having severe behavioral problems at school, resulting in repeated suspensions and criminal charges. The school was handling him wrong in every respect, but refused to adopt our program. We had meetings with the school that included over twenty-five district personnel and teams of lawyers, and lasted many hours each (one lasted two days!). The district spent tens of thousands of dollars fighting us, but their "efforts" just exacerbated the child's problems. Finally, after eight months of fighting, the principal reversed course and told her district that they should follow our program. Once they did, this child's life was turned around. His behavior improved dramatically, and since they implemented our recommendations three years ago, there have been no discipline referrals, suspensions, or criminal charges. The district was so impressed by the success of this program, they have adopted the program permanently and set it up in other schools.
An Austin fifth grader with Tourettes Syndrome was placed in a self-contained class for emotionally disturbed children and was the school's biggest behavioral problem. The school staff frequently needed to physically restrain him because he was out of control, which required three staff members usually for two hours. His parents' lives revolved around this child's disability. The dad quit his job to work at home to be closer to the child. They were so drained emotionally, they feared phone calls because they thought it was the school calling again about their son. After they implemented this program for middle school, the child moved out of the self-contained class and into honors classes with an "A" average. His science teacher agreed to spend her lunch hour discussing science with him because his questions in class were too advanced for the rest of the students. And he has had no rages at home or at school.
The program has dramatically improved the lives of every child and family that has implemented it. The real effort is to convince families and schools to adopt the program and then help them implement it. Neither is initially excited about a program that allows the child to "get away" with inappropriate behavior without punishment. Thus, AFNIC's first task is to promote the program to the families and schools. Then, because the reward and punishment theory is so engrained in our culture, it takes significant efforts in training and follow-through to educate the families and schools in how to implement the program. This is time-intensive work.
AFNIC happily accepts donations to support its work. AFNIC is a 501(c)(3) organization, so donations are tax deductible. Donations can be sent to: AFNIC, 301 Park Lane, Austin, Texas 78704. More information can be found at www.afniconline.org.
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