That’s a commonly heard phrase from toddlers, “I’ll do it myself.”
First let me be VERY clear about something. Autism itself does NOT cause challenging behaviors.
Challenging behaviors come from frustration of living in a neurotypical world that is not always welcoming or understanding of challenges ASD folks face. It is not a choice. Think of it as when the doctor tests your knee reflexes. As soon as that funky hammer thing hits your leg jumps up.
When the world becomes too much…Tucker jumps.
Again, behavior IS communication.
Tucker does not accept help well. (I just showed him this phrase and he laughed…and nodded).
Do any of us, really?
But this poses a problem at school. Here is how it works…
The teacher is roaming around the classroom checking on students. Tucker does not pay attention to what the teacher is doing; so when she stops to help him, he feels singled out. He believes he is the only one receiving help. He explodes or is incredibly rude to the teacher.
(He’s still nodding and not smiling.)
Here is what he has to say about it….
“I know teachers want to help me but I feel like I’m the only one they are helping and it’s because I have autism. I know that’s not true anymore, but it still sometimes feels like it.”
As any human – he wants to be independent, he wants to be able to do it by himself, and he wants to show his capabilities.
I also want that for him, so do his teachers.
They began communicating with me about these ‘less-than-stellar’ behaviors and it didn’t take us long to figure out what was going on. So we forged forward with a plan…
- Talk with him about the teacher’s role in a classroom.
- Talk with him about how teachers help other students in the classroom.
- Show him that we all need help.
- Work at building trust with his teachers.
- Use encouragement and positive reinforcement in more appropriate responses to his teachers.
It worked, for the most part.
If there are two things we’ve learned in the past thirteen years it is consistency and constancy.
Consistency in that we are all on the same page. How did his teachers help? First, they would make it a point to say phrases like, “I will be coming around to check on your progress, so have questions ready.” This served as a verbal indicator that ‘all students’ would be receiving help.
Second, they would often stop at a student near Tucker so he would have a better chance of seeing one of his peers receive help.
How did I help? All of us worked at showing and telling him that we (his family) needed help. For the following 2-3 months I made sure to use those words, “Matt, can you help me? I can’t do this by myself.” Our hope was that the more he heard us ask each other ask for help, the more he would see that we ALL need help. Autism or not – it’s a human condition, needing help.
That is consistency.
Next is constancy. Constant. A constant reminder.
Even when he started to get better at receiving help we continued. We were constant in our efforts because at any moment, without notice, that challenging behavior can come roaring back.
NOT because he’s naughty or unteachable or ornery…but because any host of sensory challenges may ‘take over’ that day.
Now, some folks may believe this strategy was simply us trying to get him to ‘conform’ or ‘bow to authority.’ I understand how it could be seen as such – so for us, it was simply a choice.
I DON’T want him to conform. I DO want him to learn.
I DO want him to question authority. I DON’T want him to be a jerkwad while doing so.
As is with most things in the world of autism – the tricky balance – teaching him coping/life skills while always encouraging him to love and appreciate who he is first.