We are continuing the discussion about the unpredictable combination of abilities and deficits found in each individual with autism, recognizing the inconsistency in a person’s competence in language, social interaction, academics, restrictive rituals and obsessions, sensory sensitivities, behavior issues, and self-help skills. This podcast focuses on uneven behavior issues in the spectrum of autism.
A common characteristic of autism is that of restrictive behaviors that often interfere with attention, social interaction, following instructions, safety, and daily living. Interestingly, a person who seems to have no particular behavior challenges can explode unexpectedly as a result of one issue in their environment. This inconsistency is common with behavioral issues, just as it is with language, social skills, and other challenges inherent in autism. We will discuss a few of the behavior issues that can arise in the life of a person with autism.
STIMMING. A person with autism might have repetitive behaviors – sometimes called “stimming.” This can include repetitive phrases or humming, rocking, flapping hands, playing with drool, picking or biting skin, occasional jumping or screaming, hitting head or knees, biting fingernails, stomping feet, hitting a table, throwing items, pulling hair, hitting or biting other people, smelling hands or hair, and other repetitive actions.
INFLEXIBILITY. Another prevalent characteristic of autism is preference for a regular, predictable routine and a familiar environment. Although some people with autism are somewhat flexible, others can become agitated or frustrated with changes in schedule, room arrangement, favorite foods, or people. For example, one of my young adult friends with autism has been distracted, agitated, and easily angered for the past two weeks because his weekend staff person moved. Although this young man can speak some words, he is not able to talk about, or maybe even identify, the source of his frustration. One of my young music therapy students starts hitting her head and biting her hand if I rearrange items on top of the piano. It is as if individuals with autism are extraordinarily “in-tune” with their environment. This hypersensitivity paired with an inherent resistance to change makes it difficult to relax and enjoy life.
RESISTANCE TO TRANSITION. Some people with autism find it very difficult to stop one activity and start another, even when the next activity is something they really like.
EXTREME SENSORY ISSUES. Some of the behavior challenges related to autism stem from extraordinary sensitivity to touch, smells, visual stimuli, sounds, and tastes. To make it even more complicated, some people have aversions to, for example, tight-fitting socks or shoes, while others crave that deep pressure. So, one person with autism wants to go barefooted in the snow, and the other wants to wear his hiking boots to bed.
NARROW REPERTOIRE OF INTERESTS. Some individuals with autism listen to one song or read one book over and over. Others may eat only three or four different foods for years. One of my friends wears the same shirt every Thursday, and has done so for decades!
TIP FOR THE DAY: These are a few of the behavior challenges typical to autism. Although it is difficult to do, we need to carefully scout out those behaviors that are inherent in autism and those that are a result of stubbornness, moodiness, or simply being a brat.
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