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Behaviour Analysis. The Autistic Way. An example. Thread.
Let's say we have a 5 yr old autistic girl, Sam. Sam is asked to sit still on the floor at school during 'circle time'. Sam does not sit still. Sam gets up and wanders round. What's potentially happening here?/
Firstly, let's look at how the classroom may appear to Sam. Not all autistic children will see this exact effect, when in noisy, busy, fluorescent-lit spaces. Some do. Teacher becomes invisible in the sensory chaos. /
Secondly, Sam may be able to hear people talking across the entire school. Next door, moving in the hallways, chairs scraping, bells sounding, planes overhead, clocks ticking. It is a deafening, bewildering experience. Teacher becomes impossible to hear./
Thirdly, Sam may find sitting on a cold hard floor intensely painful, and doing so becomes torture.
Fourthly, Sam may have RLS. Some autistic people do. Which means that the only way to stop the torment of it is to move sometimes. Look it up./
Fifthly, Sam may experience what many autistic people experience when in sensory hellish places - unusual brain activity. Not a full epileptic seizure, but 'spikes' in electricity in the brain, which can lead to unusual responses for a while./
Sixthly, Sam may find that being jostled leads to intense pain, for example in circle time if the children are very close. An unexpected jostling can feel like being upended, or electrocuted. Sam may wish desperately to put space between themselves & potential pain etc./
Now, we may observe that I've got to possible-reason-6 and haven't once had to go near Behaviourism.
So, what can we do to potentially help Sam to hear, see, and not be in pain?
Let's think. /
Can Sam's class not have fluorescent lights? Can Sam have sunglasses perhaps, or a baseball cap to cut out glare?
Can Sam trial noise cancelling headphones perhaps?
Can Sam be allowed to sit on a comfy chair away from the circle, to avoid collisions?/
Can Sam's autism team investigate whether there are indeed any unusual brain electrical spikes happening, and help work out what may settle those, if so?
Can people please Ask Sam What Would Help. Capitalised, because strangely enough so many never think to do this/
Personally, I want to congratulate Sam for being in that class at all, and engaging in any way, given the obstacles.
I start from thinking, "How fantastic to be in a class with Sam. This is my learning opportunity. What behaviour & attitudes of mine can I change?"
Certainly I'd want to bring in #ActuallyAutistic specialists, if I am a teacher. They can interpret autistic communication, and note any sensory difficulties that non-autistic brains may miss.
I'd want to affirm and support Sam, enabling them to be their best autistic selves.
Like any child, Sam may well try to get out of activities just because there's something more fun/less work. But that's not my 'go to' for autism. Generally autistic children want to learn and want to follow rules. If that has gone wrong, we need to think way beyond 'behaviour'.
And I see too many books where teachers are told that autistic communication & social skills are faulty, that autistic children are usually to blame. We need to stop that. Not least because the new research shows clearly this isn't so.
Different, not broken.
Thank you.
Adding, some autistic children also have ADHD, which then means it's doubly important to be able to do things in short bursts, not long sustained concentration.
Also, consider Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, another common co-occurring thing, where it can be very exhausting for a child to hold a particular position, because of differences in joint mobility etc. Again, look it up.
rls-uk.org/what-is-rls Here's some RLS info. Symptoms oftten relieved by getting up and walking around...
ehlers-danlos.org/what-is-eds/in… Here's a link to EDS. "[May have difficulty] sitting for long periods, may tire easily,...poor concentration".
Personally, as an autistic child who was often asked to sit on a hard floor in an echoing noisy space, sitting on the floor would become screaming agony after a while. Being non-speaking, I couldn't say this. I didn't get up. I enduring agony. Is that better? I think not.
And one could make a case for Sam doing exactly what she is designed to do. Autistic people, historically, would have had the best senses for being on the borders of a village, listening and looking for danger. It can be a natural instinct to do just that, not a fault.
So, perhaps a child needs to be reassured about emergency procedures if they detect (say) a smell of smoke in the air, or the sound of something odd happening in a nearby room. How to report that. Perhaps a child needs to be left to stay on the perimeter, monitoring what's what.
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