Allergy season … Admittedly, I am a robust sneezer – meaning that I produce an obnoxiously loud sneeze. The volume and intensity are truly beyond my control. However, my 20-year-old son with autism, who has limited conversational skills and an equally limited tolerance for noise, has worked persistently for years to develop my ability to do so.

With every sneeze, he comes flying to my side, with hands clamped firmly over his ears. “Too loud!” he pronounces, before scuttling off to quieter corners. Feeling both rebuked and sniffly, I make efforts to stifle the next explosion, but inevitably it comes. And Colby rushes back to reprimand me once again.

We repeat this pattern ridiculously often before I finally realize that we – or at least, 

I – need a change.

Using our tried-and-true ABA techniques, within a few practice sessions, we replace “Too loud!” with the solicitous “Are you ok?”

So now Colby still rushes through the house to acknowledge every sneeze. His “Are you ok?” meets his need to note my transgression. But now I feel cared for instead of chastised. Reinforcement works both ways! Win-win!