In order to develop appropriate and supportive strategies it is essential to examine the underlying reasons for behaviours and not take them at face value Peeters, T., 1997
At times a combination of factors, including the impact of autism on their thinking and processing of information, can result in individuals with autism communicating through behaviour which might be inappropriate to the context, or unexpected. The behaviour may have become an expected response to particular stimuli or situations. Staff will at times consider some behaviours to be challenging.
No behaviour in itself is autistic and not every pupil with autism has issues with behaviour. No behaviour is in itself 'challenging'. What one member of staff finds challenging may be different to what is challenging to another. It is dependent on an individual’s interpretation. At times staff may experience a lack of confidence and feel ‘de-skilled’ or that behaviour is personalised towards them. It is important to always remember that all behaviour is communication, and understanding what is being communicated will help us develop appropriate support from the range of responses, interventions and programs available. An analogy is often made with the iceberg - the behaviour we see being the tip of the iceberg. Dealing with the behaviour alone can be a short lived measure if the more significant reasons, often not so obvious, are not identified and addressed.
There are usually a variety of reasons for any behaviour including:
- Communication of confusion, anxiety or frustration
- Sensory overload or difficulty in processing sensory information
- Responses to activities/experiences which are under or over stimulating
- Exerting control over the environment/situation/context (to affect, react or interact with it)
- Disruption to routines
One of the most effective supports for young people with autism is to listen to them whether they are communicating verbally or behaviourally and to adjust your responses, interventions and programs accordingly. Listening, not just to what they are saying or doing, but seeing past the words or actions to attempt to understand what they are actually trying to communicate.(see Pupil Voice)
Consideration is required on when best to support a pupil to review and reflect on an event and their behaviour. Immediately after an incident is likely to be inappropriate as anxiety levels may remain high, however, leaving too much time after an incident may result in the pupil being unable to remember or recall events. As this is a core area of difficulty for pupils on the spectrum, they are likely to need ongoing teaching and support to be able to successfully locate themselves in their own experiences and to be able to reflect on those experiences for future learning.
It is important to promote strategies for self awareness, self reflection and understanding of consequences. Self evaluation tools should focus not just on content, but on process, e.g. what did you do, who did you do it with, what occurred, what choices were available, what were the consequences of those choices. Using visual strategies, at an appropriate level, such as in Comic Strip Conversations (C Gray) is likely to support better understanding, and provide concrete method of reflecting on outcomes and decisions at another time.