Because individuals with autism are faced with challenges in communication, behavior, rituals and routines, social interaction, and sensory issues, it can be difficult to decide what issues to tackle first. Sometimes it is good to step back and take a look at the overall picture. First, let us take a look at four general categories of behavior issues common in autism.
Dangerous Behaviors. Safety demands that we immediately address dangerous behaviors, those that are potentially hurtful to the individual with autism or those around him. For example, taking off a seat belt and opening the door of the moving car is must be addressed immediately. Other behaviors that require swift action include things such as attempting to drink household cleaners, hurtful scratching, biting, or throwing, clearing items off grocery store shelves, or grabbing or hitting strangers unexpectedly.
Annoying behaviors. Some behaviors are irritating or socially inappropriate or unhealthy in the long run. For example, an individual with autism might loudly hum the same tune for hours, or tear pages from books, or refuse to eat anything except Hershey’s Chocolate bars. These irritating or inappropriate behaviors and others like them can be addressed at some point with a pro-active, consistent strategy that systematically decreases the inappropriate behavior and increases an appropriate, incompatible behavior.
Inherent Behaviors. Some behaviors are rather inherent in individuals with autism. For example, some of my friends with autism are rather insistent on wearing the same shirt every Thursday, or they have an emotional meltdown if I forget to sing our traditional closing song at the end of a music therapy session. Other friends rock when waiting, flap their hands when agitated, or insist on eating the same food for lunch every day. In my humble opinion, we need to weigh carefully the merit of trying to eliminate or discourage behaviors that are inherent in autism.
Age-appropriate behaviors. As odd as it seems, we should actually celebrate when our teen with autism becomes defiant or wants to stay up late and sleep late. It is actually a good sign when our youngsters with autism act like other kids their age.
TIP FOR THE DAY. This is, of course, just a brief overview of different categories of behaviors we might encounter. Just keep in mind that it is unrealistic to assume we can control every single behavior in an attempt to shape “perfect” people. Distinct categories help us prioritize and systematically address various behaviors in a more reasonable, pro-active way.
NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At FAQautism.com we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at talk@FAQautism.com with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. http://FAQautism.com