Autistic Whisperer

30 Dec

I’ve enjoyed this blog over the past year. It’s allowed me to think out and consider some new things and actually “meet” some pretty cool people.

Of course sometimes things I write are a bit raw and edgy and generate no small amount of emotion. This might be one of those.

This past week has been Dog Whisperer week on the National Geographic channel. Ceser Milan describes himself as a dog psychologist who treats dogs and trains humans. He big three essentials for a balanced dog are Discipline, Exercise and Affection. He goes around, helping people with wild, aggressive dogs or nervous dogs or dogs that otherwise have some sort of behavioral problem. He then talks to the owner, meets the dog and then attempts to treat the dog while training the owner in his methods. Milan is using behavioral techniques but they involve much more dog-cognition than what most dog trainers and behaviorists would use. He often talks about dominance and submission in the context of pack behavior.

I was especially interested in seeing how Milan taught the human owners to control their dogs. Ceser is good at what he does. He’s excellent. But his greatest skill is transferring his knowledge and skill to the real owners so that they can do what he does in order to have a more balanced dog. And that is what he does time after time.

I know I’ll get busted by the “people-first” crowd in this for looking at kids and comparing them to dogs. I say people treat their pets like kids and that’s a big part of the problem when it comes to raising their pets. However there are many comparisons that are inescapable. As are the results of using similar techniques in dealing with dogs and kids. Hear me out.

First off, Milan often tells owners that when their dogs are being aggressive or exciting not to talk to them. Talking adds to the excitement level and makes them more agitated.

Hello? This is exactly what I’ve tried to express to paras, teachers and parents when their kids are going into meltdown/tantrum mode. Basically, when a kid is into an emotional meltdown, talking and yelling add to confusion. This is true even of higher functioning people, as I discovered back in the days when I worked in the psychoed and the hospital. That principal still works today.

Many of these dogs were adopted from pounds and shelters and have histories of abuse and neglect. He says that you can not help the dog if you feel sorry for them because you will be constantly projecting weakness instead of leadership. Owners like to make excuses for their pets and for some, their sympathies often are major contributors to the dog’s bad behaviors. I see this all the time with students with disabilities and their caregivers. Yes, the kid has disabilities, but having low expectations makes them more disabled! I watched a mom at an autism support Christmas dinner we had do everything for her son who was 18 and we exchanged a word or two. She did almost everything but chew the food for him! The boy is functioning in a moderate severe range even though he’s able to read at about the 6th grade level. What made this behavior more shocking to me is that she is a para for some of my ex-students at Northside High school! She knows better and even complains about other parents and teachers who do the same thing! AAAAHHHHHH!

She didn’t welcome my criticism.

I often crawl up a caregiver’s butt for being too helpful and hovering thus creating “learned helplessness.” Which leads to another principle…

Ceser Milan often tells owners that their dog needs lots of stimulations and challenges. This is especially true for those with high energy and high intelligence. And so it is with our kids. So much misbehavior occurs when our kids are bored. They need and want to be challenged which is enabling. And really, that is our primary job as caregivers is to be enablers for our students and children.

Christmas time is filled with all sorts of opportunities for bad behaviors with all of the stimulations, crowds, attractions, sweets and pitfalls for adults as well as children. Thomas has had a few meltdowns which happen mostly when he is tired or hungry. And during them meltdowns I’ve actually tried out some Dog Whisperer techniques. Even the “Tssst” while pointing that he uses. And you know what? It works. At least until he imiatates this with his younger brother.

People often criticize behaviorists for treating people like animals. I’m here to tell you that enabling my children to behave more like humans and less like animals is the proper and humane thing to do. It’s our job as adult to bring up and raise children into adults with instruction and support and correction when necessary. I don’t want my children or students to behave like animals. But animals and children both need assistance in an environment that is sometimes antagonistic to their needs. It should not be surprising that the techniques would overlap.

After doing a bit of research, I’m aware of the controversies surrounding some of Milan’s techniques. I’m not advocating using choke chains on kids or the use of the flooding technique that he uses to treat many of the issues the dogs he works with has. Neither do I advocate approaching aggressive dogs or even aggressive kids if they are strange to you. However, being quietly assertive and setting boundaries, providing security through leadership, and being proactive are all just good practices when dealing with all children and those with autism in particular. Say whatever you will about some of the dog whisperer’s methods, his ethic of never giving up and always learning is a good lesson for us all.


9 Responses to “Autistic Whisperer”

  1. teachergirl December 31, 2006 at 8:19 am #

    Learned helplessness is something I’m dealing with in the regular classroom; Mom just wants to help Junior get along with his assignments. She can’t bear watching Junior fail and see his self-esteem suffer for a little while. I say let Junior fail once or twice, see the consequences of his ways and then let him learn his own lesson. It is a hard lesson to learn but better to learn it now when it is a little easier to take.

  2. liz January 1, 2007 at 2:20 am #

    Oh, Dick, I am so with you on this.

    Our kids need to fail, and then get up and tackle the job agian.

    My reservations about Cesar is that…well, what works for him is that he perceives the precursors to adverse behavior, and X% (choose your X, I vote for 90) of parents/owners do not, and cannot learn to see the precursors.

    One of my wishes for 2007 is that I will be able to meet many of my blogfriends in the flesh. I am not promising to make it to Georgia–but I’d like to.

    I wish you peace, prosperity, and happiness in 2007

  3. Tore January 3, 2007 at 7:33 am #


  4. Dick January 3, 2007 at 7:51 am #

    Hmm, at some point I’ll have to noodle out my feelings about failure. Clearly, I’m not against letting students and kids face and deal with adversity. This is how competence and confidence is instilled. I view failure as a more global condition than simple set-backs and making errors and reaping consequences. Kids need some adversity in order to build some degree of strength and character. But since our kids already have a lot of adversity built-in, how much harder do we make it? Lots to think about there.

    Thank you all for stopping by!


  5. qw88nb88 February 6, 2007 at 12:04 am #

    Not all “adversity” is the same. Teaching (parenting) involves providing children with tasks that are a bit challenging, but not beyond their abilities. It’s our job to help teach them the tools and scaffold them up to the next level. If we give them tasks that are way beyond their abilities or dump them into situations without the right tools or guidance, then we are setting them up for a lot of failures.

    There’s also a big difference between challenging someone, and simply making things unnecessarily difficult for them. I’ve had more than my fill of the latter, thank you.


  6. Valerie Dancer February 11, 2007 at 11:14 am #

    You talk a lot of sense. There are a lot of simularities between controling kids and dogs. The biggest mistake is to treat your dog as a child. By doing this the dog usually thinks it is top dog and that is when the real problems begin. Most trainers like Cesar Milan only get to see dogs when they have aquired the bad habits. It is easier the stop bad habits developing than it is to cure them.

  7. Shirley March 8, 2007 at 2:58 pm #

    I agree with you about this. I think it goes back to authority and the proper order of things. Ceasar becomes the pack leader and it works with the dogs, parents need to be parents, kids need to be kids and both dogs and kids need to respect authority. If it is done in a loving, firm’s successful and everyone is happy.

    I think of this especially because our son has autism too, and we were thinking about applying some of these minor examples from Ceaser. This all makes sense because autistic kids have social challenges, so we need to be sensitive to thier needs and limitations, but basic authority can be learned and respected at all levels.

    thankyou for the article and thoughts, keep up the great work and don’t apologize for doing it. You know how the saying goes, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for everything. Keep standing for what is right, and all else falls into the right place.


  8. Shaamex January 29, 2009 at 5:13 pm #

    I was an C. Aide to a child on the Autism Spec. and I found the Calm/Assertive Method was very helpful. Especially, when the child is having a meltdown. Being quiet helps if there are other people who are trying lend assistance not realising they are adding to the noise level. Usually the child is trying to get to a quiet place in addition to getting what they want. The child hears noise not even realising it is they who may be the loudest of all. Cesar, states he wanted to be the best dog trainer ever,but now he says he didn’t realise the ripple effect his teachings are having. Although, not a dog trainer these days, he has saved many lives, dogs and perhaps children too.


  1. Psykologiaktuellt - January 3, 2007

    Att lära hundar och barn

    Jag tror att det är tv4 eller någon närliggande tv-kanal som just nu kör reklamsnuttar för ett program.

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