Let's start with a little background. I'm a speech therapist, and at present, I cover maternity leaves. A speech therapist has a baby and I say, "See ya! Got your caseload covered!"
I'm covering an elementary school right now that has several Autistic little cuties around 5-6 years old. And current wisdom teaches reinforcements for good behavior. So if you have a completely out-of-control child with Autism, as soon as they sit still for 3 seconds, you give them a reinforcer. Nice job, buddy! Now sit still for another 5 seconds and you'll get another reinforcer. Woohoo! Kinda trains them that good things happen with they cooperate. You eventually extend the time it takes to get a reinforcer, and you've got a kid that can participate in an activity for a normal length of time. Easy enough, right?
Now, don't get me wrong because these teachers are beautiful, wonderful people and they've been at this a lot longer than me, so I have to assume they know what they're doing. However, as a mom, I can't quite wrap my brain around all the food for reinforcers. Because it's not really food. It's crap. Sugar-infested, hurt your teeth kind of crap. Pretzels would be okay. I could live with pretzels. But that's as healthy as it gets. Cuz we're talking chocolate chips, french fries, Cheetos (no knocking the Cheetos, b/c I love those things), chocolate granola-bite-things, gummies, smarties, oreos, m&m's...you get the picture.
I'm sitting next to a kid the other day that's getting Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal as a reinforcer. This is a kid that won't participate in diddly, won't talk, and has tantrums about every 30 minutes. So I get the need for a reinforcer to participate in music class. No prob. But trying to keep a straight face was hard. My eyes got bigger and bigger as this kid got a new piece of cereal every 5 seconds. He ends up COVERED in sugar - hands and face are buried in white. After music, he goes and jumps on the mini-tramp like a monkey and one of the teachers says, "He won't stop jumping...don't know why." The other replied, "Does he want an Oreo...what's the matter with him?"
Time for a moment of pause.
They seriously want to know why he's acting like a happy kangaroo? Really? I mean, no April Fools, no "ha-ha you're on candid camera"? Did they really and truly miss the fact that they just gave him about a cup of sugar?
I pondered this as I moved on to my next kid. So I sat down to work with him and he starts to fuss. The teacher threatens, "Do you want your cupcake?" "Yes!" he blurts. "Then finish your speech" she says. Meanwhile, I'm thinking, cupcake sticker, cupcake squishy toy...whatever. It's all good. We finish working and no sooner do I get my books and toys out of his sight than his teacher pops over with a half-eaten cupcake. A real, honest to goodness you-eat-it cupcake. She plops it down in front of him as he digs in to the 2 inch icing with glee. I managed to keep from yelling something inappropriate by averting my gaze to the clock, but had to stifle an impending screech. It was 10:15 in the morning. A CUPCAKE at 10:15 a.m. What...what??? And he'd obviously had the first half of it earlier in the morning!
Clearly frustrated, I go next door and work with the next kid. His teacher is giving him a test of sorts, asking him to repeat words to see what sounds he needs work on. Right up my alley! Lemme at it, sister! I'll take over. So she forks over the test with a good-luck face and pipes, "This involves lots and lots of pancake."
Oh brother. Really?
Yes, really. Sure enough, I have to toss a little triangle of pancake at him every five words so he'll sit still and work with me. And plain jane pancake isn't good enough. He's got a container of syrup that he dips it in before popping it in the kisser.
By this time I've given up, but curiosity gave way and I asked the teacher whether pancakes are the best reinforcer for him or not. She shook her head and lamented, "Oh, it's actually good that he eats those. He generally won't eat anything. Most of the time he has ketchup sandwiches for lunch. He won't eat meat, cheese...nothing."
On my way back to the speech room, I pass a basket of snacks that 1st graders brought from home. Donuts, chips, cheese cracker squares, cookies, and snack cakes. RE-ALLY????
Holy cow, people. We feed our kids this nonsense and then wonder why they act like toots?
Now, I certainly don't claim to be a know-it-all with Autism. These awesome teachers have run the gamut of what works and what doesn't, so I'm not about to tell them what to do. But it gets you thinking. Your average Joe-kid getting fueled with junk food?? Eye yie yie!