What is Autistic behaviour?
The question of What is autistic behaviour? can sometimes be a good place to start if your child is developing at a slower rate in a few areas, for their age group, or consistently engaging in challenging behaviour.
At least in our case, we found it can sometimes be difficult for parents to differentiate between typical temper tantrums and autistic behaviour.
As our son has grown, his tantrums have definitely taken on a whole new level of intensity, noise level and hostility.
Since receiving our son’s diagnosis of “Level 3 (severe) Autistic” I have been doing as much research as I possibly can on the various areas of life that can be affected by autism and other related disorders.
Many of the common traits or behaviours that are often associated with an individual having ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) are now very real examples for us that our son exhibits on a daily basis. These are just a few:
Fixation on one or two things.
For Andre, this involves basically choosing a couple of his toys, or sometimes just random other objects (combs, hats, crayons etc) which he carries around with him everywhere he goes that day, all the way to bed that night.
He often doesn’t ‘play’ with these items in the traditional sense, but gets fixated on having them on him at all times.
Lining up objects.
Apparently stacking and lining up objects is common. Our son does this a lot with his toy cars, lining them on various platforms.
Absolute hatred for his hair being cut, combed or brushed
Or even touched in general! Andre’s hair has gotten longer and longer the last couple of years as his inability to deal with having it cut has grown much stronger with age.
We’ve already tried countless hairdressers, including in home professionals, but as soon as he sees any sign of a haircut (scissors, chair, mirrors etc) he starts screaming, the intensity of the screaming is a whole other level, i.e. beyond loud-making it impossible for the hair dresser to continue.
Preference for his own company
Although our son attends a childcare facility every weekday, surrounded by other kids and educators, when we pick him up in the afternoons, almost every single time, we will find him just quietly playing with a few toys on his own.
When his group at childcare all sit around on the mats for story time, you’ll generally find Andre sifting around somewhere in the background, entertaining himself some other way.
Sometimes children will come up to Andre and try to interact with him by playing with the same toys he’s focusing on, but 99% of the time, he will either take the toys back off them, or gently try to push them in another direction.
It’s pretty much the same at the children’s play centres we often take our son to.
Andre can be surrounded by hundreds of other kids, but often appears like he hasn’t even seen them, as will still continue to march to his own beat-playing his own way, seemingly in his own world.
Autistic or anti-social?
When observing children displaying these types of behaviours, it can often be referred to as ‘Anti-social behaviour’ when children go against the grain.
We of course want our son to be able to enjoy the company of others, and to form healthy, meaningful relationships with other children, but at the same time, we’re pleased about the fact that our boy is an individual, and doesn’t feel the need to simply follow the pack.
There are literally a plethora of common behaviours associated with ASD that our son regularly demonstrates, and these do vary for each child.
One major factor to take away is simply knowing that if your loved one on the spectrum is demonstrating these or various other challenging behaviours, that you’re not completely sure how to tackle-you’re NOT alone.
Be prepared to change
One of the biggest learning curves for us with our son, and his autistic behaviours, has been the realisation that like all things, it too evolves.
One day Andre will be absolutely obsessed with say a particular TV show (in his case, this usually means either ‘The Wiggles’ or ‘Wallykazam’), and usually, he’s only obsessed with one particular episode that day, or sometimes that week.
But we have come to learn that all that can change overnight, quite drastically if Andre chooses so.
He may be obsessed with one episode one day, then depending on how long he stays hooked on it-sometimes a day, sometimes a week, or 2, he’ll wake up and get extremely upset if you try to put it back on for him.
This is the same with toys, activities, and foods. We have found we need to be willing to change the approach, the ‘rules’ even in some cases, in order to try to keep up with our son and his ever-changing demands, priorities and preferences.
Where to turn?
When it is your loved one on the spectrum, often every single piece of information you can find online to help you deal with their behaviors can appear useless to you-as doesn’t ‘quite’ describe the situation you’re in.
Obviously every person with autism is going to have quite a varied set of behaviours, patterns obsessions etc, unique to each individual, just as we all have various traits, habits and characteristics that make us who we are.
Figuring out what makes your ASD affected loved one tick, and how exactly to help them, can be cause for some major frustrations for parents, especially with a non-verbal child, who can’t simply tell you what’s wrong.
This is when it can be helpful to seek assistance or guidance from professionals, even just to learn some effective strategies for coping with tantrums or meltdowns when they occur.
Deb Hopper is an occupational therapist who has helped hundreds of homes gain some of that much needed peace, through her books, workshops and various techniques she implements for combating challenging behaviors.
Aside from online research, our knowledge of “What is autistic behaviour?” has purely come from the experiences we have had with our son.
We have had to Learn, pivot, adjust goal posts, and to also try to instill some discipline, in some way where possible-though admittedly this is extremely difficult with a non- verbal child.
You know your family best
When it is your loved one who has been diagnosed with ASD, there’s always certain areas that you will simply know instinctively what is best for them, since they are your loved one, and you know the things they like, dislike and what not.
Often YOU and the others around you, who form a major part of your loved one’s network, will have the biggest impact on how they act around others in public, view certain situations, and learn key life skills.
My advice is to learn all you can, take in all information regarding autism when you have a family member diagnosed with ASD, and to just try to incorporate that information and learning into your approaches towards your own loved one on the spectrum-on their terms.
Now that we are working with a team of professionals for our son, we have been given some great approaches to try, all based off their own interactions with Andre, what they have observed, and what he seems to respond to.
We have certainly learned that sometimes you need to simply ‘give in’ on certain, smaller things, in order to encourage behaviour we want to see more of. In other words, pick your battles.
Helping them by attempting strategies and approaches proven to be effective, and tying those into practices that work for them in particular, is possibly the best thing you can to do assist your loved one in living life to the fullest.