Extreme Communication

What is a person trying to communicate when they suddenly start screaming, hitting, or biting? What are they saying when they suddenly drop to the floor or scratch their arm or hit their face? Teachers, family members, job coaches, therapists, and others spend a great deal of time and energy attempting to translate these characteristic forms of extreme communication displayed by some individuals with autism.

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It has been said that everything we do is an attempt to communicate something. Folks who have limited communication skills may resort to disruptive or hurtful behaviors or other extreme communication techniques in an attempt to let us know what is going on in their world. These outbursts can mean different things, so caregivers might want to document circumstances in detail when the behaviors occur to see if a pattern develops.

When a person with autism suddenly displays disruptive or destructive behavior, it usually can be translated to one of the following: (1) “I don’t want to do what you want me to do.” (2) “I am bored.” (3) “I’m tired of doing what I’m doing.” (4) “This is too hard.” (5) “I want you to pay attention to me.” (6) “My tummy / ears / foot / head hurts.” (7) “I’m overstimulated and need to calm down.” (8) “I don’t like / understand this change in routine.” (9) “I’m very tired.” (10) “I’m very hungry.” (11) “I really want a snack.” (12) “I need to go to the bathroom.” (13) “I want to keep doing what I’m doing, so don’t ask me to stop.” (14) “There is a firestorm going on inside my head.” (15) “I just need a hug.”

There are, of course, other issues that can result in an outburst by individuals with autism. But, often, such outbursts are an attempt to communicate. It is up to us to do the detective work necessary to translate these messages, usually by process of elimination. This is a very challenging task, but worth the effort in the long run.

Note to FAQautism.com listeners and readers: 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. You can click on a button to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solutions. Check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. www.FAQautism.com

Originally Posted October 25, 2007

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