Autism comes with a range of behaviours and not all fall within the category of “well-behaved” or “socially acceptable”. The responses that result from an individual’s inability to process abstract words or sounds for instance, can come across as “difficult behaviour”.
Over time, it is easy for us to focus on pruning the “undesirable” behaviours - understandably so since a person’s mannerisms or ability to respond are essential to any social setting. However, we must not forget that behind the slew of behavioural symptoms lies an individual who experience the same feelings as we do.
Mr D is a little one who has difficulty following being in the moment. He is repetitive in speech and has a fixation on certain topics. It can be challenging for him to stay in a 2-way conversation as his thoughts switches rapidly between his favoured topics and hyperverbalizes on them.
Music helps him a lot. The inherent structure in the music gives him some means to be in the moment and regulates the tempo of his thoughts. We were working on a song this week, when he suddenly looked at me and said, “Teacher J I don’t want people to say ‘STOP IT’ (harsh tone) to me anymore. I hate it. I feel upset.”
That came across so clearly in that moment that I was taken by surprise. In a beat, he returned to speaking about the different pictures in his mind. I tried to ask more about an event when “stop it” made him upset. However, autobiographical recollection was tough. So we returned to our song, and “Don’t say ‘STOP IT’” became a refrain in our song.
During my post-session reflection, it dawned upon me that perhaps, there were just TOO MANY instances when he was told to “stop it” in a harsh way. To my horror, I was probably one of those who contributed a “STOP IT!” or two.. or more.
How many times have we “stopped” a behaviour, especially those that are repetitive and disruptive, by using the most convenient “STOP IT”? These 2 words are the easiest to use in addressing behaviours. I don’t deny the fact that it is needful to say them and in varying degrees of seriousness, depending on the situation. E.g. if the kid were about to touch something dangerous, I don’t think a “hey buddy, that’s not quite a good idea” would cut it. The intensity and harshness of tone in which it is said could shock a person to stop in his tracks.
However, an overdose of “stop it” in a harsh tone, might not be the best either. I doubt we will like it very much if someone kept telling us to “stop it”. How much more so, for a child who has trouble managing and controlling himself. He might well be thinking, “ I would have STOPPED IT a long time ago if I could, dude!”
Thanks to Mr D for this needful reminder may we always remember to explore different ways of managing and redirecting behaviours; to watch our tone in the process of delivering “stop its” and leaving a harsh “STOP IT” as the very last resort.