Visual Routines as a Challenging Behaviour Strategy
Visual Routines as a Challenging Behaviour Strategy
March 27, 2018 | Ron Spreeuwenberg
Structure and consistent is critically important for young children to thrive in learning environments. Sequence and patterns in a recognizable and familar order are important for young children.
Episode #89: "This week, we hear from a parent of a child who experiences behaviour challenges that are linked to a learning disability. Listen to Pierre Seguin's experience in navigating the education system with a child who displayed challenging behavior that led to a special needs diagnosis. As an early childhood educator, you take on a responsibility to serve the needs of each child and their unique needs. Pierre is also the Founder of Brili: Through consultations with psychologists and other child behaviour experts, he learned and then realized the benefits of routines and visual schedules.
As a professional technology manager, Pierre knew that software development teams use big screen digital dashboards to give them project information at a glance while working, without becoming a distraction. So why not, he thought, create similar technology to help families by making visual schedules, simple, powerful and fun. Listen Now.
Resources in this episode:
- Learn more about Brili and create an account today.
HiMama Preschool Podcast, Episode #89 – Pierre Seguin
Proofread and revised by Andrew Hall – March 23, 2018
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And I think this would be helpful for every educator to realize is that a lot of behavioral challenges actually are rooted in some sort of learning problem. The big “A-ha!” moment that we had with this was that he had a learning profile that really was at the root cause, we think, of a lot of his apparent behavior challenges.
Hi, I’m Ron Spreeuwenberg, co-founder and CEO of HiMama. Welcome to our podcast about all things “early-childhood education”.
Pierre, welcome to the Preschool Podcast.
So, Pierre, you've got a beautiful son: Leo. He's 13 years old now. And can you tell us a little bit about Leo and what he's like as a son?
Sure. He's a great kid. I love the conversations we have now. And he's creative, he's funny, and he's always challenging me to be a better dad.
And if he's 13 he's almost moving on to high school. That must be a little bit scary?
Yeah. I'm hoping that the transition goes well, but he is pretty stoked about it.
Awesome. And what does Leo like to do for fun?
He is a big Minecraft fan, and he loves to read. He's getting into music as well. He's keeping himself busy with all kinds of stuff.
Awesome, awesome. And Leo had some challenging behaviour growing up that you had to deal with as a father. Can you tell us a little bit more about when you found out there was some challenging behaviour there, and how that played out?
Sure. He could always be kind of a challenge, right from being a baby, from the toddler stage. When he was an infant you could consider him choleric-y, but he didn't really grow out of that. And he had a lot of oppositional behaviour where you might ask him to do something and he generally more often than not didn't want to do it. And he often would blow up there was some sort of discussion around getting him to do it.
And we tried all kinds of traditional parenting methods that we had learned as we know from our own parents, and those didn't seem to work, and books and that didn't seem to work. And it got to a point where if we were trying to get out the door to daycare in the morning he would typically have a meltdown almost every day around some activity that was related to the morning or bedtime routine. And he was also… when he got to kindergarten and Grade One there were issues that the teachers weren't able to resolve either. And so that's when we started to realize that we probably needed to bring in some extra help to understand what was going on.
And where did you go for that extra help? What resources were out there for you to reach out to in the community to learn more about what the basis of some of this challenging behaviour might have been?
Well, I would have to say it wasn't obvious for us to find these resources, initially. As we started to navigate things it got easier. But our first recourse was, we talked to our GP [general practitioner], and the GP is not an expert on child behavior. And so we started to look around for different programs that might deal with oppositionality, and kids who explode and that kind of stuff.
So there were some community programs that were eventually connected with, but most of them were publicly funded and had long waiting lists. So we had to be pretty patient about actually getting into to see somebody. But, we eventually did. And then once we were once we were sort of in the system, actually, things got easier.
It's interesting. So what would your advice be to other parents out there who feel like their children might be expressing early signs of challenging or difficult behavior at a very young age, in terms of the support that they could or should get?
That's a tough call, because every parent has a different level of skill coming into this situation, I would say. And so it was difficult for us to know without a frame of reference to understand that what we were dealing with wasn't normal. It took a while of actually looking at other parents with their kids and comparing notes and saying, “It's always a little bit harder for us, and I wonder why?”
So I would say, when that realization is starting to happen for a parent it's a good time to start reaching out to the programs that might be available in the community. And talking to the doctors is also something I'd recommend doing, even though it didn't immediately pan out for us. If the doctor is a pediatrician the pediatricians do tend to have a little bit more information about behavior-related challenges for kids.
And you also mentioned childcare and some of the educators or teachers there having some struggles with Leo, too. Do you recall much about that process and what their feedback was to you, and how they communicated this information to you, and what that experience was like?
Yeah, I would have to say it was sub-optimal. What would happen is, we'd get a call or an email from the school, saying, “Your kid did this, and it’s beneath the rules.” Okay, well, what do you want us to do about it, right? And so basically the implication that seemed to be coming from the schools was, “We have a problem with your kid. You need to fix it.” And so that was our experience. I'm sure it doesn't happen everywhere. I think different schools have different levels of ability to deal with these things. But initially that's what was happening for us.
The schools do have specialists, at least on the school boards that my son has been in. But even just getting that formal recognition that you need to have the child connect with that specialist to get an assessment is a bit of a slog. And I could I could talk at length about all the advocacy you have to do on behalf of your child with the school to make sure that your child’s needs are met in the school environment, because it doesn't it doesn't come on its own. And parents really have to work hard, based on my experience and the other parents I've talked to, to make sure that a child who's got a behavior challenge which actually might be linked to a learning challenge to be able to succeed in the school environment.
Yeah, that's interesting feedback for parents, and really good feedback, and I can certainly understand why that may be true, even though it shouldn't be. And also for the educators out there listening to this podcast I think it's a reiteration that has an early-childhood educator you take on a responsibility and accountability to help all the children that you’re serving in the classroom. And obviously every single individual child is different and has different needs, and some are more challenging than others. But that's why you're an early-childhood educator. And why you're educated in that specialty is because you can be the one to help.
And so it's unfortunate to hear that your experience was a little bit more of, “We have a problem with Leo. Can you can sort it out?” Because actually that's the early-childhood educators job is to help [to] help you with that. So that's good feedback for our early-childhood educators out there.
And so you talked a little bit about this process of learning more about Leo’s challenges. What about the actual diagnosis process? Was there any point where there was an actual diagnosis or recommendation for treatment to you that were more specific?
Yeah. So what was interesting about this is, we learned along the way that doctors are reluctant to do a formal diagnosis until the child was 5 or 6 years old because they're trying to account for having the brain fully develop and making sure that the symptoms do indeed line up to be associated with a particular condition. So we eventually got there. So this was through a process of assessments where parents have to fill out their assessment forms, teachers have to fill out assessment forms, and then there's also some direct testing on Leo's abilities. And we realized through this process that he had gotten an A.D.H.D diagnosis and a nonverbal learning disability diagnosis, and also Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which basically just means he's a difficult kid.
But the part that I think most people don't grasp initially – and I think this would be helpful for every educator to realize – is that a lot of behavioral challenges actually are rooted in some sort of learning problem. So it might be being able to pick up on verbal cue, or non-verbal cues, rather; it might be not being able to understand a particular concept; it might be not having the mental flexibility to adapt to new situations, which causes a meltdown. And so this was very much the case for our son. His non-verbal learning disability, in particular, was a confounding one because his verbal skills were… what it means, basically, is his verbal skills are actually very good, but non-verbal skills are not good. So he could carry on a conversation at a level much older than he seems.
So he seemed like a really smart kid, and he is a smart kid. But there were parts to his to his learning profile there were a lot weaker, like pattern recognition, like the ability to plan and sequence things like that mental flexibility and picking up on non-verbal cues like somebody’s facial expression. If a parent or a teacher is upset he might not realize that. He might not link easily or readily the consequences to any particular action. And then ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder] made him an impulsive on top of that.
So what was happening is, you've got these teachers thinking, “We've got this really great kid but he's really difficult to deal with. He must be a real jerk, because he seems so smart. He must be understanding what I'm saying.” But what was actually happening was, he didn't understand. And his coping mechanism was to actually be oppositional. Like, he'd rather not do a task at all than to struggle with it, a lot of times. So the big “A-ha!” moment that we had with this was that he had a learning profile that really was at the root cause, we think, of a lot of his apparent behavior challenges.
That's very interesting, and a good note about being careful about your perceptions of children's behavior and what those might mean in your assumptions. So taking a step forward, when did you get to a point or feel like you were at a point where you had a good balance of how you could work with Leo during transitions and with his routines and to help manage this behavior?
So that consistent theme that we were hearing when talking to a lot of the experts we were connect with, also a lot of the reading we did, was that structure and consistency and routine is very important for kids. And it's important for young kids in preschool. But it's also important for kids of any age, especially when they have a learning disability. And I actually listened to your podcast with Alyson Schafer, recently, where she was talking about the importance of routine. And basically all of those points she made are totally true. You need to be able to complete these activities in a regular, sequenced way, consistently, without changing it up so that the child knows what to expect and you’re not blowing their mind with changes all the time.
And also there's a learning process that takes place. It's much easier to string together a regular sequence that’s, like, “Okay, after I do this task, like brushing my teeth, my next task is to get my shoes on,” right? If it’s done consistently you start to internalize that. So getting all of that education was important. But of course actually putting into practice was the difficult part.
And so this is this is where, as a technology guy, I started to think about, “What kinds of what kinds of tools can we develop to make this better?” The tools at the time – and these are very good tools that are in use and recommended – but the idea of a visible schedule, just writing things down in terms of what order the tasks are supposed to happen and in the morning routine and what order the tasks happen for the bedtime routine, and including a visual element where you've got a picture of what that task might look like. So you'd some clothes to represent getting dressed. And some of the pictograms actually get a lot more detailed than that – it actually shows a kid getting dressed.
So that visual component's important as well because it just makes that there's less processing for most kids to actually look at. Plus when they're young they can't actually read that well, if at all, either. So again, that's where the visual schedule is very handy, something that you can put somewhere easily visible that a child can refer to and say, “Okay, I did this and now I'm going to do this. I did this, now I’m going to do this.”
Yeah. So you actually took it upon yourself to try and help other families, parents and people that are dealing with children with challenging behaviour, onto yourself by creating an app that helps with routine and visual schedules, and it's called Brili. Can you tell us a little bit about that technology and how it works and who can and should use it?
Yeah. So I wanted to build on the concept of visual schedules, because the visual schedules on their own were great but they were even better when you added the timer because in real life kids have to complete their sequence of activities by a particular time. Like, “It's time to get ready for school but we have to be out the door by this time to be on time.” At bedtime there's a lights-out time that the parents, they want some time to themselves and the child has to get to bed by a certain time.
So in real life to all of these activities have to be time constraints. So what I wanted to do was to combine both of these things into a dynamic tool that would self-adjust based on how quickly the tasks were actually getting completed by kids, and then give kids a realistic sense of how much time that they had left on the task, but also for the routine in general, and also to let them earn some free time by getting things done quickly. So the quicker they get things done the more free time that they earn, and that can be labeled with any activity that the parents want.
And then between each task, or as time has started to collapse on the given task, I also wanted something that was actually able to prompt the kids audibly – and verbally, as well, – to say, “You have this much time left to brush your teeth.” And then afterwards it goes, “Now it's time to get your shoes on,” to use my earlier example.
So combining all of that into a useful tool that was easy to use for parents and for kids, but also importantly gives the kids a sort of a game experience where it gives them some motivation that they can earn rewards for getting this done. That's what I wanted to accomplish, to make visual schedules work for us and make them more practical and easy to use for families in general.
So that in a nutshell is what Brili is. It's a system that can be used either in a web browser, or we have an iOS app, and we have an Android app. And you can have it on as many devices as you need. Each one of your kids can have their own device. You can have one device, the parent’s device, running it. But it works better when you have multiple devices using it because the parents can monitor kids’ activities in real time. And the parents can get as much benefit out of hearing those prompts as the kids do because the parents, sometimes we parents have lives of our own. We have to get ready in the morning, too. We're easily distracted by everything else that's going on – the other kids, the pets, whatever.So this sort of helps bring us back to making sure that the child who needs the support is on track. And so parents can check in as needed.
That's a really good point, too. And I like the idea that you’ve tried to make it fun for the child and have rewards and make it more like a game, because then obviously they're going to be incentivized to want to use it, which is very important. It sounds like it's an awesome app and an awesome program. But of course if the children don't want to use it then that's not very helpful, and that of course will help with that. So that's very cool.
And what about yourself? Through this process of creating this app and the conversations you've had and the journey you've gone along with designing and developing it, have you learned anything further through that process?
Oh, yeah, I have. I've learned a lot, and at many different levels. As a parent I've learned because this has allowed me to stick with consistent routines and experiment with different routines with my son to basically optimize how or our day runs. And also we've been able, just sort of using the really anonymous aggregate data generated by the system, we're actually able to see just in general, “How long should it take for a child to brush their teeth at a given age? What sequences of activities tend to string together into more free-time earned?” And just other generalized things that we've been able to glean. And so we've done some of the analysis on that data, and we’ve worked with the University of Toronto to better understand it, and that's an ongoing project.
So there's been, just sort of as a parent and learning best practices, and even through my work in developing and promoting the product I've come into contact with some of the best minds in child psychiatry [and] child psychology. I’ve have had a chance to go to conferences where I’ve gotten way more exposure to this world than the typical dad might have. So just from that one dimension, as a parent I've grown immensely by doing this. And that is not to mention everything I've learned about product development and trying to market a system like this to parents. And as an entrepreneur, leave all that aside, just as a parent it's been a great growth experience.
Awesome. And I think it's a really good example of how you can take a “technology guy”, as you called yourself earlier, who is also an entrepreneur and a dad and combine your expertise and interests with, as you mentioned, child psychologists and other experts in the child development field and put those two people together in a room you can come out with some really interesting stuff, like Brili, which is awesome. And if I'm listening to the Podcast and I want to learn more about Brili, where should I go?
Well, the best way to learn about Brili is to go to our website, www.Brili.com. There's a couple of videos there that will explain how it works, and you can browse through the site and also look at some of the feedback we've gotten from other parents and how it's worked for them. And everything you need is there. And if you want to subscribe to the Brili service you can do it straight through there.
Very cool. Pierre, thanks so much for telling us about Brili, sharing your experiences and your journey with Leo, and thanks for creating Brili and sort of taking your life and learnings and sharing it with others so you can help improve their lives. Sounds like a really awesome app and I encourage people to check it out. And, of course, thank you for coming on the show today. It's been awesome.
Thank you, it's been a great pleasure.
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