“Challenging behaviour” and autistic people.

“Challenging behaviour” and autistic people.

A Twitter thread by Ann Memmott, @AnnMemmott, from 8th October 2018, blogged with permission.

Autism.  Challenging Behaviour.  A thread.
I see a lot of people writing about ‘challenging behaviour’ from autistic people.  Autism does not cause any ‘challenging behaviour’. Let me explain what I mean by this….
3:50 PM – 8 Oct 2018

An example: If you have a friend with epilepsy, and they go into an epileptic seizure, are they demonstrating ‘challenging behaviour’  that needs correcting?
What about a friend who has diabetes and displays aggressive behaviour during a low sugar episode?  …ctd…

Logically, neither of the examples above is ‘challenging behaviour’, yes?
OK.  Imagine you’ve just put your hand onto a searingly hot surface.  What will you do? Shout, scream, jump back, wave the hand round?  Dash off to find cold water or help? Are you being ‘challenging’? ..

What about if you are so short of sleep that you can barely function, and have the headache from hell, and you are snappy and unable to concentrate?  Are you being deliberately challenging, and need your behaviour modifying? …

How about if you are absolutely terrified of a situation, (think of your worst phobia) and someone is trying to force you into a space with (whatever it is).  You might scream, run, shout, struggle to get away. Are you choosing to be challenging?…

The above examples help us to think about autism. Autistic people aren’t ‘challenging’. Quite often we are exhausted, bewildered, afraid, in huge pain, being pushed into terrifying situations by unthinking/untrained people.  And our responses may be exactly like those above….

But it’s distress behaviour.   Or a brain response to social and sensory overload that is totally out of the person’s control.  It’s not a poor choice of behaviour to get something (apart from relief from pain and fear). Enforcing our tolerance of terrible pain and fear is not OK

Autistic behaviour is not a ‘poor choice’ by us; in terms of autistic need, it arises from desperation and from a failure of meeting need of some kind – in the environment, from communication, from routine-needs, etc.  Yes, any person can also just be angry, or upset, or tired…

But we don’t respond to (say) our next door neighbour being angry, upset or tired by calling in a behaviourist to train them out of it.  We need to think anew about why that’s seen to be OK with autism. We need to change the attitudes of those around autistic people.

Ann Memmott is an autistic autism consultant and blogs at http://annsautism.blogspot.com/

She is the author of the guide to the Oxford Diocese “Welcoming Autistic People
in our Churches and Communities.”

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