If there is one thing I learned teaching special education, it is that having an arsenal of strategies helps. I also learned that some of my best ideas related to this were developed on the fly when I needed them. An example of that is my coveted lotion strategy. It was like a marketing miracle….a drop of my lotion became everyone’s favorite reward.

Here’s how it started.

I had a student with Down syndrome who I will call ‘Mimi”. She reminded me of Mimi from the Drew Carey show. As you may recall, Mimi loved makeup. Well, so did my student. She had a giant purse full of makeup that she LOVED. It was a gift to her from a friend of mine, Jori Udall. Oh how she loved it!

Mimi struggled with transitions. She would get very focused on what she was doing. She did not like to be interrupted if she was putting on her makeup or digging around in her purse. She was 51% sweetheart, and 49% stinker, and one of my favorites. She had no qualms hollering at the class if she was annoyed. She was also very loving at times. Like all of us, she was a bit complicated.

A strategy that would cross the minds of most people would be to take her purse away if she didn’t listen. I did not do that, and I will explain why.

People with an intellectual disability often have trouble recovering from upset, and that is exactly what happened when anyone took her purse. I did not want her to be in a funk and asking for her purse for the rest of the day. She would be so focused on that, I would lose her for the day. Also, because I knew her so well, I knew what she would likely do if she didn’t have her makeup.

When Mimi did not have her makeup, she would use markers. Yes. She colored eye-shadow, blush, and lipstick with permanent markers on her face. She was a force to be reckoned with. Taking the purse away was just too upsetting, so it’s not something I wanted to do.

For some unknown reason, one day I gave Mimi the warning that it was time to get ready for lunch, and she started to put her stuff away.

I didn’t miss a beat. I started to rave about her wonderful behavior.

“I am sooooo proud of Mimi. Look everyone, she is getting ready right away. The minute I said it’s time to clean up, Mimi put her paper away. Amazing!! I am sooo proud! ”

Then, I impulsively grabbed the lotion that had been sitting on my desk unnoticed for a few months.

“I have something that I have been saving for a special time. It’s fancy lotion from the mall. It smells like vanilla (dramatic smelling of the lotion). I would like to give Mimi a little bit of my special lotion for listening so well today. Class, please watch while Mimi gets some special lotion for her hands.”

Mimi grabbed the bait, and started walking over to my desk.

I’ll be honest, it was a struggle to not laugh.

I very dramatically put a small drop of the lotion on her hand. I treated it as though it were very, very special. She loved it. My whole class was intrigued because of how I was reacting. I got everyone’s attention. We took turns smelling her hand. Everyone commented on how nice it smelled.

Well, my other students wanted this sort of attention, and they deserved it, as they were much more cooperative than Mimi. I gave them the same treatment. As I put a small, pea-sized drop on their hands, I would say something that I appreciated that they had done. No act was too small. One student got a drop of lotion for starting to write his name on his paper.

The coveted lotion worked for awhile, and then Mimi was over it. I found it worked best when I didn’t overuse it. This is one of many strategies.