Thursday, 9 June 2016

Human behaviour.

One thing that confuses people about PDA boy is his ability to mask.

In public, when he's feeling uncomfortable he will display Behaviour (capital B intentional, there's nothing lower case about this behaviour!), but this behaviour will, weirdly, make him look like any other typical human being, albeit a rude, loud, impulsive one. This shouldn't be a surprise because, after all, he is a human boy, he is not some alien species.

Any behaviours a child shows is essentially human, whether the child is autistic or not.

Having read Dr Ross Greene's The Explosive Child (may have mentioned it before, excellent book, go and buy it), I believe that any "bad" behaviour in any child has its roots in something having triggered the child to behave in that way. In some children (my own included) that behaviour is bigger.

The difference between autistic (and other SN) children and their neurotypical peers is that when a NT child behaves "badly", it is assumed they are being naughty, they will be disciplined, they will learn not to do whatever it is they were doing.
Typically, when an autistic child acts up, there can be one of two options that people take:

1. Assume the child is being deliberately naughty (because let's face it, that is what it looks like!), discipline in the same way a NT child would be disciplined, find it doesn't work, or isn't as effective, assume the child is still being wilful, situation may easily spiral out of control, child is often held to account for their behaviour, even though by that point, they are beyond having any control over their actions.

2. Assume that the child is feeling overwhelmed or anxious, follow the strategies that work for that child to allow them to recover.

I know which option I think makes more sense, but at the same time, I know which option is often chosen.

Option 2 should be the default option for every single child with a diagnosis of autism, or even a suspicion of autism or other neurological difference.

Option 1, when those in charge know about the diagnosis, sets the child up to fail, it is highly unfair for the child to be put in this situation. In my more strident moments, I would go so far as to say in some cases this is downright abusive.

Whilst PDA boy hasn't (yet) reached a point of losing control in a school setting, he has been in situations many times where he is being cocky, silly, rude, distracting, sometimes on his own, sometimes alongside his peers. He will be told off, sometimes on his own, sometimes as part of a group. Each and every time, he will come home and meltdown. He does not understand why he's being told off. He could be told off a million times, it still won't impact on his behaviour, because........ HE IS NOT BEING DELIBERATELY NAUGHTY.

PDA boy may appear to be NT in school, but the fact is, it is an elaborate act, he is not NT, and NT strategies only serve to increase his anxiety, which means he is more likely to show the behaviours his teachers are wishing to curtail.

This is so unfair on him, quite apart from him being disciplined for behaviour that he can't control (a child wouldn't be punished for having an asthma attack, or having a temperature when ill), he is not being given any opportunity to learn how to behave more appropriately, and he is being pushed and pushed to a point where he will be more likely to lose control and end up hurting someone, which would in all likelihood lead to bigger punishments and even exclusion.

If PDA boy's behaviour is spotted and strategies used to help him feel better, not only will his behaviour improve, he will also feel less anxious in school, which will mean that academically he may improve, which will mean he has more options as he gets older, which means he has a greater chance of working in a job he enjoys, which means he is more likely to be happy. Surely this is the hoped outcome for all children? The route to get there may be slightly different for our autistic children, but by using default NT discipline methods across the board, I do wonder if some teachers realise that not only are they setting up the child to fail, they are also setting themselves up for more and more difficult and disruptive behaviour in the classroom.

This isn't intended to be a teacher bashing post. There are wonderful teachers out there who do their utmost for our children. Unfortunately though, it so often happens that teachers, misguidedly following standard procedure, with no malice or harm intended, will unwittingly make life far more difficult for our children, and at the same time make life more difficult for themselves when having to tackle more and more tricky behaviour. It is probably as well to point out as well that this is being written by the mother of a boy who masks so well that the only signs he will show during times of great distress are the same signs his peers will show when mildly pissed off, so I do understand why this is happening.

Not all children will show stereotypical autistic behaviour in a classroom. For some children, PDA boy included, showing any behaviour at all is a big deal to them, and more often than not means they are desperately struggling to keep their feelings under wraps. These are extremely vulnerable moments for our children. These are the moments when our children need more support and understanding.

It is so important that this is understood. Whilst behaviour may look similar, it doesn't always mean the same thing, it doesn't always feel the same to the child, it cannot be treated the same across the board. All children are human, but those with autism do not process things in the same way, they cannot be lumped together with NT children in these situations, as it simply won't help them.

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