I’ll start with my disclaimer…it’s important!
First, a disclaimer:
- I am in no ways any kind of expert on Autism.
- If you hear someone say they’re an expert on Autism…run away as fast as you can. Autism is such a new and growing phenomenon, and there is not enough information for anyone to be an expert right now.
- Every child with Autism is different. I can tell stories about the children I have come into contact with, but it is SO hard to generalize across the wide spectrum.
- This series is meant to increase awareness of these amazing children, and to help people who don’t deal with Autism on a daily basis a little bit of a better understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
- If you want to hear more, please buy the book! I think this is a very valuable book and it is a very interesting read, and that’s why I am using the author’s framework for sharing my own knowledge and experiences.
#3: I Won’t vs. I Can’t
When I first started teaching, this was the hardest concept for me to understand. I had many negative behaviors in my classroom, and now when I look back, I realize that maybe as much as half of those behaviors could have been understood much better if I would have truly grasped this concept.
Let’s say I call to a kid across the room, “John, come on, we’ve got to move on and you haven’t even gotten your backpack off yet! It’s time to get moving.”
Woah woah woah. That may work with a typically developing child, but for a child with Autism, all they heard was, “&@#$^!@#($&.”
When they don’t respond, I start to get more frustrated. ”John, didn’t you hear me?! Why aren’t you hurrying? We’re going to be late for the assembly!”
At this point, I am escalating. I’m getting frustrated. John is looking out the window and talking to himself.
This is where I need to STOP.
Check myself. Is John choosing to ignore me? Most likely, no. He is honestly so confused by all of my verbal diarrhea (sorry, I hate that expression, but it fits!) that he has learned to cope by retreating into his own world, and talk to himself.
It’s important to realize functions of behavior when we look at a child. Not only a child with Autism, but EVERY child! Here’s a breakdown of different kinds of behavior:
1. Resistant/avoidant- you are asking a child to do something they don’t know how to do or is unpleasant ho them for a reason we might not understand.
- In the case above, John legitimately did not know HOW to follow through with my request. You might laugh and say, “He’s hung up his backpack millions of times, he definitely knows how to hang up his backpack.” But he did not know how to comprehend all of my words in those phrases together. What might look like resistance from John was really because he didn’t understand what I was asking him to do.
- If a child is displaying attention seeking behaviors, it is very important to realize that ANY attention you give them is helping to reinforce their behavior. This sounds crazy, but some children actually crave negative attention instead of no attention at all. My greatest success with these children has come with learning how to IGNORE. It doesn’t matter if they are calling me every name in the book, throwing chairs around the room, or screaming until I think I’m going deaf…if they are truly an attention-seeking child, ignoring these behaviors WILL work. When that child has calmed down, and is doing what has been asked of them, make time to really love that child, and give them extra special 1:1 attention.
- See the post on sensory regulation for more information about what this could look like
- This is the behavior I have seen the least of in my experiences working with students on the Autism Spectrum, but it’s not completely absent.
- I really like how Ellen Notbohm spoke to this in her book. She said, “When so little is within their control, many children with ASD experience life as a continuous battle to hold onto whatever poser they do have to direct their lives. Their attempts to control may be overt (confrontational, aggressive behavior that looks like defiance), or they may be passive aggressive (they silently or covertly continue to do what they wish to do regardless of attempts at redirecting behavior).”
- This is what I see most of with my students on the Autism Spectrum. It’s important to let them have some semblance of control of their own lives. Giving students choices is so empowering! This doesn’t mean choosing whether or not to do a task, but giving them choices such as:
- “Would you like to finish you homework in blue or red crayon?”
- “Would you like to stand or sit while you’re working?”
- “Do you want to start at the bottom or the top of the page?”