Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Does Your Child With Autism Have a Daily Record?

Shannon Des Roches Rosa

There are so many factors that can influence or illustrate how our children with autism are wearing their own skin, including but not limited to: health, toileting, aggressive and/or self-injurious behaviors, sleep patterns, medications, language usage, diet, and school performance.

We've used a Google spreadsheet to successfully track important factors for my son Leo for the past several years. A daily record of Leo's important variables helps track and explain underlying patterns if and when things go awry -- or go well. Because we keep Leo's record online as a Google docs spreadsheet, it can be shared with his entire school and home program team, as well as with interested family and friends. Once a behavioral record has been set up, it takes only a few minutes each day to fill it out.

An online behavioral record spreadsheet has been an invaluable tool for information sharing amongst Leelo's team and fans, and also for providing fast, hard evidence of how well he learns and how much progress he's made when I start fretting that things aren't going so well. And, best of all, a daily record on Google Docs is free. I heartily recommend setting one up, if you haven't already.

Below are the factors we track for Leelo, with examples. I try to keep entries brief as that helps facilitate data analysis. We also including his weight at the beginning of the month, the medication and supplements he takes daily, as well as a list of the foods he typically eats.
Runny Nose

Accidents: 1 (pee, slept in, wet bed)
Up at 7, to bed at 10 PM

French bread, tried bite of hamburger

claritin, tylenol meltaways for his toothache

"Time to go swimming!" "I'm all done bath. Nice dry towel."

0 aggressive (towards others)
1 self-injurious (slapped head when denied ice cream)

I fill this out using daily communication notebook his teachers send home

Home program therapists, if any, can write notable items here.

Extra category for factors that may influence Leo's behavior, e.g., "Spring Break" "Dad on business trip"
Tracking helps us back up our anecdotal observations: "Yes, he has had more self-injurious behaviors this week. He developed a runny nose on the second day of the behaviors, so possibly there is sinus involvement. The behaviors disappeared three days later, along with the runny nose."

Tracking helps us make better long-term behavioral analyses as well. When I enter an IEP meeting and ask for extra behaviorist support during winter months, I am backed up by several years' worth of data about Leo's increase in aggressive and self-injurious behaviors during that time of year.

Of course, there are incidents that need no additional interpretation, as when Leelo has a spectacular meltdown in the Costco checkout line because we arrived as soon as the doors opened and there weren't yet any nice people handing out food samples. I remained calm, helped him to his feet, reminded him to keep his hands down, and met the eyes of the people around me with what I hope was a look of Autism Parent Supreme Confidence.

And then I went home and recorded his behaviors in his spreadsheet.

This essay contains material from posts on