This chapter begins with a story about an autistic student who had a habit of snapping in class. As he moved into second grade, the teacher his teacher found his behavior disturbing. She asked for interventions to diminish the behavior.
This lead Dr. Delahooke to ponder whether the behavior should be corrected or if it was serving a purpose. Many misunderstand the behavior of autistic students. They fail to look at the individual differences or respect the way in which these children have adapted to the neurotypical world.
In the case of the child who snapped his fingers, it was discovered that the behavior was a coping strategy for anxiety.
Many autistic children suffer from over-responsivity (which is sensitivity to sensory input). They also have trouble with anxiety, digestive problems and sleep issues, because they suffer from high stress. Many treatment plans ignore this problem instead focusing on social skills, communication and behavior. As we know these top down skills will not be mastered until safety and connection are addressed.
“In this case, the message is that diversity of movement and behaviors shouldn’t be automatically judged as negative.” p.207
Using composure and acceptance, we could lovingly say:
- “It looks like you felt something, sweetheart. What might that be?” p.226
- “It seems a bit difficult for you to sit up straight right now. Perhaps you can prop yourself up right next to me with this nice pillow.” p.222
- “It seems that you feel it’s a bit noisy in here. Feel free to grab your headphones if you need to.” p.223
Click here and here to read stories about people who are on the spectrum and have struggled with sensory issues.
The next story is of an autistic girl who sang during inappropriate times and was not able to keep her hands to herself. After trying reinforcement of desired behavior with disappointing results, it was decided that the child would get three chances to comply. If she failed on the third attempt, she would be taken to a quiet area with her aid.
The first time she was taken to the room she returned quietly and seemed calm. In actuality, she was on the blue pathway as the experience traumatized her. She began refusing to go to school, became afraid small rooms and locked doors.
Elizabeth Torres, a researcher, has studied autistic behaviors and how they are attempts to deal with bodily difference. These adjustment and adaptations like “stimming”, lack of eye contact, repeated routines could be coping skills to deal with stimulus in the environment with a sensory system that is wired differently than neurotypical people.
Instead of trying to eliminate these behaviors, explaining them to others, such as students or other adults, will generate acceptance and understanding. Ignoring the behavior is not a good approach as there maybe medical reasons for them. Ignoring also decreases our connections with others and is very stressful to nonspeaking autistic children.
Helping Neurodiverse Individuals: