MICHAEL'S COOKIE: A DELAY OF GRATIFICATION
Health, toy safety, psychology, and whatever interests us
Some years ago, I worked at a state institution, sort of free-lancing with
behavioral problems when requested by other staff members. Joanne,
one of the teachers, had a pupil named Michael, whom she saw once a day.
Michael was fourteen years old, and possibly autistic -- or displayed some
of the symptoms. He had trouble with language, and would often resort
to pulling or otherwise physically "manipulating" his respondent or companion
when thus frustrated. He tested below normal in all components of the
WISC except spatial relations, in which he was well above normal.
During Joanne's teaching sessions, Michael would often request a cookie, and could become quite violent if he didn't get one right away, doing damage to the room and hitting his teacher. I wired a light to a timer with big minute and second hands, so that the light stayed on until the measured period was over. We set the timer for one minute, and told Michael that each time he asked for a cookie, he had to hit the button turning on the mechanism, and wait until the light went out; then he would get his cookie. He was fascinated by this, and quietly watched the light until it went out. Joanne explained to Michael that he could also tell how the passage of time was progressing by watching the big clock on the wall. Michael stopped watching the light exclusively, and watched the clock, too.
We increased the time in one minute intervals to five minutes, at which point we increased the interval in units of five minutes. At ten minutes, Joanne insisted that Michael work on his lesson while the light was on. This occasioned some temporary upset, but the "price increase" held. At twenty minutes, we stopped using the light, and started giving Michael two cookies and a rest period at the end of each successful interval. Eventually, we got the interval up to one hour, and Michael was quite content to get a small bag of cookies to eat whenever he wanted, some right away, some later. His studies progressed from that point, and he learned to tell time after a fashion.
©1996 Ed Loewenton