Averse to Aversives: Reading a story recently about a special-education teacher who thought a good way to keep her students from mouthing crayons would be to dip them in hot sauce (the crayons, not the kids, though I wouldn't put anything past people these days) got me thinking about my son's own school experience with aversives. He was in a first-grade self-contained class on a track that was right for him academically and disastrous for him socially, and in that way educators have of focusing in on one trait they think they can change, without much thought for priorities or consequences, it was decided that he Must Stop Sucking His Fingers. A discovery was made that cleaning his hands with wet-wipes would keep him from putting the fingers in the mouth, and so I was ordered to send in jumbo boxes of diaper wipes to maintain this unappetizing state of his digits. Now, if you've had a kid who engages in comfort activities, you know where the story goes from here -- he stopped sucking his fingers, and started a whole bunch of newer, louder, more invasive, and even less socially acceptable behaviors. But by golly, they solved that finger problem!
The following school year, we switched him to another school and another self-contained track, one that was wrong for him academically and wildly successful for him socially. Since he had the same one-on-one paraprofessional, I waited with trepidation for the call to come, and eventually it did. Mrs. Mauro, send in the diaper wipes! I met with the teacher and made my case for the quiet comfort of mildly disgusting finger-sucking over all the jumping and flapping and hooting and hollering he'd do without it, and either she agreed with me or quietly purchased her own dang diaper wipes, because the issue was not raised again. Over the years, he's added paper curling and cuticle destruction to his repertoire of contained comfort activities; I don't think he still sucks his fingers in the high-school building, just comes home with bleeding nail beds. Maybe I should be sending in alcohol wipes instead.