Challenging the Reputation of Autism and Behaviour that is Challenging 

Maybo Australia's Mark Wakefield looks at the history of Autism diagnosis and questions why those on the spectrum are often categorised as 'difficult to manage'

In the days of institutionalisation and before Wing and Gould developed the Triad of Social Impairments to define childhood autism, it appeared to be a very different condition to the one we talk about today. Then, autism was predominantly diagnosed in hospital/institutional settings and those diagnosed had to meet at least seven out of nine criteria which showed a significant impact in many areas of a person’s life for a diagnosis to be given. Often those that received a diagnosis also had other cognitive and possibly physical disabilities to contend with. Add to this the lack of understanding of the condition and the reason for a range of behaviour’s that are challenging being utilsised by these individuals becomes readily apparent. Where verbal communication is impaired the need to use other forms of communication (behaviour) becomes more prevalent. When behaviour is used to communicate in a world seemingly geared towards the spoken word then confusion can often arise and with it frustration and a need to display that emotion. The result may be a behaviour that is seen as aggressive or violent; and so followed the neurotypical need to categorise and as such Autism becomes associated with ‘behaviour’s that are challenging’. 

Jump forward 30 years to the post 'Triad' world where even the trusty triad is now in abeyance. Wing and Gould started us on the path to better descriptions of autism and better tools with which to diagnose it. TV programmes have made us all armchair experts and popular TV shows have made Autism mainstream without even uttering its name. This mixed bag of medical and social interactions has meant that we are now more readily able to notice the traits of autism in all of us. The phrase “ that was a bit autistic of me” is commonplace and yet the stereotype remains. Those children that were previously categorised as naughty and disruptive may now have a diagnosis of Autism giving more credence to the stereotype that those who experience autism are “difficult to manage”.

So what about the people who experience autism that don’t make a fuss and who avoid conflict. There are many of them and they walk among us, they are us, living their days in the same way that we all do. They work and love and have children, hobbies and friends, and many don’t even have a diagnosis. Many people learn to manage their condition; they choose activities that suit their temperament, friends who are accepting, partners that love them for who they are and jobs that fit their interests and skills. This ability to choose often only comes once school has finished; the child labeled previously as disruptive can then, unbound by school constrictions begin to build a life that suits them. I am a teacher and I love schools and all that they have to offer. An education is a wonderful thing but we all learn differently and those who experience Autism may have some very specific learning traits and styles. By catering to these different characteristics it is possible to support a child in school and not for them to be labeled the disruptive or “Naughty child”.

All things being equal we would live in a Utopia where everyone was accepted for who they are and what they brought to the community. In this world there would be no need for labeling and no need for conflict resolution. However we live in a world where we need to support students and staff and help them understand how to deal with situations when they are faced with a ‘Behaviour that is Challenging’.

Maybo’s experience of working in services and schools that support people who experience autism and/or Intellectual disability has helped us to develop our programmes to help staff understand and manage the behaviour that they experience and work with on a day to day basis. Our training focuses on building an understanding of human interactions and communication and how this understanding can be used to support someone to have a rewarding and fulfilling life. When other strategies fail we also have a range of skills that allow carers, support workers, teachers and other staff to keep themselves and others safe. 





Posted by Maybo on July 20, 2015


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