Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Deeper Meaning of Consistency


1.   a degree of density, firmness, viscosity, etc.: The liquid has the consistency of cream.
2.   steadfast adherence to the same principles, course, form, etc.: There is consistency in his pattern of behavior.

3.   agreement, harmony, or compatibility, especially correspondence or uniformity among the parts of a complex thing: consistency of colors throughout the house.

4. the condition of cohering or holding together and retaining form; solidity or firmness.


When it comes to teaching a child or someone with special needs, the word consistency is used often by teachers, parents, care-givers and therapists.

I have used this word and practice often, as I am the oldest of 7 children and the mother of two boys with special needs.  Working in the special education department in the public school system has also given me experience with this word and when combined has provided much experience putting it into practice.

It wasn’t until recently, when a comment was made by someone charged with the care of special needs individuals, did I figure out what I believe to be the true meaning of the word “consistent”.

“Why should we even try to do anything with him when he is in our care?  If his mom doesn’t do what we do here when they are at home, nothing is going to work.”

I was unfamiliar with this sort of defeatist attitude.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, working in a public school the blame is almost ALWAYS on the parents.  Whenever a kid does anything, it is the parent’s fault.

“They are spoiled.”

“They aren’t made to mind.”

“Their mother does everything for them”

 “They just need a good swat on the butt!”


No matter how true these statements may be in some cases, it does not disqualify that individual from learning or having appropriate behavior outside of the home.

This is not to say that parenting doesn’t affect a child’s behavior because of course it does.  It is obvious in observation which children are held accountable for their actions and who aren’t;  and what parents are consistent with their expectations and consequences.

When there are inconsistencies, it makes the learning progress more difficult.  They are not used to the expectations set before them.  But it is not impossible.

To have a well-behaved individual, it would be best for that individual to be surrounded by people who are “on the same page”…meaning all adults and caregivers interacting with the child have the same  rules, guidelines, expectations and consequences.  If they do, the child is more successful at having appropriate behavior.

But from my experience, if the child IS in situations where they are  “raised” differently, that does not mean they do not or cannot adapt to a behavior plan.

Each child develops a relationship with the adult caregiver in different aspects of their life.  ESPECIALLY those with special needs….they really see to the core of an individual and thrive on routine and consistency above all else.

For example: 

My children:

I started working with an autistic child when he was 6 years old.  Although non-verbal, he was potty trained after only a few weeks and for the next five years never had an accident at school when I was there or when I took him on numerous field trips.  But, when he was with his family, he had frequent accidents and mom put him in a diaper, and without exception on family outings.

If we used the theory that no matter what we try to teach when we have a child with us won’t work because it’s not being done at home, this example above would not be possible.  Not only would it make the above example impossible, but it would also negate any kind of school or therapy program where the individual was not in continual care by one adult 24/7..

Will the child have a more difficult time adjusting to the request  from his caregivers if he is used to being able to present certain behaviors?  Most likely, but that does not mean it is impossible.

This student also sat in a high chair at home and frequently threw his food and made big messes.  He also climbed cupboards and got into cabinets.  At school, he sat independently, ate what he was given, and did not throw things.  The home behaviors were not seen at school.



Another example:

A 10 year old girl I knew was as sweet as pie at school. Teachers loved her. She was a good, responsible student.  When she visited her mom, which was very infrequent, she would whine and fuss like a much younger child and demand she get her way.  When she was with her dad, who she lived with, she was more of a tom-boy and prone to getting into verbal and physical fights.  I observed her in all three situations and it was hard to believe it was the same child!

I think this also proves that an individual responds to the relationship built by the parent or caregiver verses the level of consistency.  Her best behavior was at school, where she probably had the most consistency and the most praise for positive actions.


A mother came to me whose four year old was terrorizing their home.  He was destroying everything in his path; and the large two story house looked as if literally the Tasmanian devil had taken up residence.  He was always naked, screaming and climbing all over the place.  There was food ground into the floor in every room and the bathroom was constantly flooded. Dump trucks were filled with urine and random poop piles could be found amongst the chaos. The mom could no longer cope after he had suffocated and drowned family pets, so she spent her days in the bedroom with the door locked.

I took him to my home for the summer months for about 10-12 hours each day.  He wore clothes, ate at the table, was calm and respectful to objects, people and animals and became potty –trained. 

When he went home, he was once again given free rein to do as he pleased.  His mother did not use the schedule or the directives we set in place in my home and the child returned to the same behaviors while in her care.

Although he was not in my home as often, he continued to listen and be respectful while in my care.  He learned that our specific relationship meant that there were certain expectations, rewards and consequences because of the clear consistency in his schedule.

Just because not every care-giver in a child’s life is not “on the same page” does not mean there is no hope or no sense of trying.  We can help these individuals by giving them a chance to reach their full-potential using our own personal consistency in our daily interactions.

This is more about us deciding to clear goals and objectives while establishing a meaningful relationship with the individual.

I have read countless behavior reports on individuals new to my care.  Almost all of them do not exhibit the extreme behavior in the new setting that they did in the previous.

Consistency is within US.  This is OUR job.  We need to follow through with what we say.  We need to keep the same expectations daily.  There is no “today I just can’t take this so I’ll give in”.  This is SO detrimental ESPECIALLY for autistic kids.  Once they’ve seen your weakness, they will be sure to push it to that limit and beyond EVERY time.  They need to know you are sincere.  They need to know you mean what you say.  If you make a rule, think it through.  Am I going to want to fight for  compliance for this EVERY day?  Is it necessary and worth it?  If it is, do not falter.  This is really about US and not blaming THEM.  We need to do everything we can to make the time spent together enjoyable so the individual wants to comply with our directives.