Ask 'Why' Not 'What Should I Do' When A Child With Autism Seems 'Difficult'

19/04/2016 8:11 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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7 year old boy sitting near the window and playing tablet

By Paramita Mazumdar


Source: Sunshine School

For the last 16 years, I have been waking up every morning prepared to face a new challenge with my son and with those 70 kids from my school who have been born with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Admittedly, it's an uphill task for all parents and families raising an autistic child. However, I believe that god gives us what we can handle--all we need is to muster is that extra strength and a lot of patience in truly understanding the challenging behaviour of children with ASD.

Whenever I think or talk about my child and our autistic children in school, their behaviours inevitably occur to me first. Followed by the question: how do we handle them? But what I have learnt from experience is that before we start worrying about a solution, we need to address another all-important question: Why do kids with autism behave the way they do?

Our negative response to a certain behaviour can reinforce that behaviour!

Here are some of the key triggers for challenging behaviours that I have come across in my more than a decade-long experience in dealing with these "special" children:

  • Since many ASD-affected children have difficulty in communication, they often try to express themselves through that behaviour.
  • Autistic kids often have problems accepting change of routine. They prefer a predictable environment, at times getting upset even if furniture is changed in the house.
  • Anxiety.
  • Poor or no sleep.
  • Lack of social understanding.
  • Sensory sensitivities.
  • Sensory overload.
  • Transition is sometimes a problem for autistic kids. They may sometimes not understand that it's time to move from one activity to another.
  • Challenging behaviours could also stem from some underlying conditions such as epilepsy, depression or obsessive compulsive disorder.

Many behaviours also are responses to previous experiences. If the child learns that shouting, screaming or hitting gets him out of a difficult situation, he might repeat it in future to escape from doing a given task.

Also remember: Our negative response to a certain behaviour can reinforce that behaviour! It has a significant effect on what the child does the next time around in a similar situation.


Source: Sunshine School

Over the years, I have discovered that understanding the ABC of a particular behaviour is an important precursor to devising a solution:

  1. Antecedent: What triggers the behaviour?
  2. Behaviour: How does the child respond to the trigger?
  3. Consequence: What does your child get out of the behaviour?

This analysis may be able to help improve that behaviour over time. Remember: Never say "NO" to any behaviour; doing so again and again can actually reinforce that behaviour.

Sometimes, we as parents, classify certain behaviour as challenging because we, as individuals or as a society find them difficult to accept.

Sometimes, we as parents, classify certain behaviour as challenging because we, as individuals or as a society find them difficult to accept. When such thoughts cloud our minds, we must remind ourselves of the child's strengths and positive attributes.

Showing respect for the child's thoughts, feelings and agreeing that he understands far more than may be obvious, is key! It is also essential to build our child's trust and self-esteem.

I am always careful that I (or anyone else) do not speak about him in his presence.

Criticizing his behaviour in front of others is a strict no-no!

As parents of autistic children, we always try to go the extra mile to understand the child better and to raise them well. But what we often take for granted is our health and self-care. We must remember that it's important for us to be healthy at all times--with the right food, exercise and good rest, we should be able to manage our situations far better.

"There needs to be a lot more emphasis on what a child can do instead of what he cannot do." - Temple Gradin


Source: Sunshine school

It's important to look for things in your child which make you happy and this not-so-easy journey may become a tad bit easier for you.

Paramita Mazumdar is the mother of a 16-year-old autistic son and has been dedicatedly working in the field of Autism Spectrum Disorder for the last 15 years. To help her child and others with similar yet 'different' abilities, she started Sunshine School at Vashi, Navi Mumbai in 2006.

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