Do you ever see that person in the shopping mall flailing their arms running towards someone. It used to frighten me sometimes, before I understood what was going on. I remember years ago at the shopping mall, suddenly the person started running towards someone and began hitting them with a barrage of blows. My first thought was just to stay as far away as possible. This is the way I viewed people afflicted with special needs including autism, until I started working with them. Instead of being afraid, the more I spent time researching and learning from them, I was on a path to understanding their issues and seeing them for the unique individuals that they are.
Having worked with autism kids for several years, I have a good indication of some warning signs of behavioral issues. But I will also talk about how to tell when they are they are in a comfortable self-soothing state as well.
If you are someone who is unaware of why they do certain things, then this information may be helpful in understanding their basic behavioral issues.
First of all it is important to understand the difference between non verbal and verbal autism. The National Autism Association says that, “40 percent are nonverbal”. They can communicate but do not speak in entire sentences, or they may utter words or not speak at all, Some use sign language, basic gestures can be taught to use their words in other ways such as hand clapping for ‘yes’ for example. Part of their frustration can come from not knowing how to communicate with a caregiver, parent or teacher.
Now let’s look at some warning signs.
It might be an indication to move out of the way if they smack their hand against the wall which can be a precursor for escalating behavior. One behavior will lead to a more significant aggressive physical behavior. In other words, there will be a warning sign so pay attention. This is more for high risk behavior. There are also some students with autism that have little or no risk.
As far as ‘why do they injure themselves’, Dr Sonya Doherty in her blog article “Headbanging and Autism. Why Kids Bang their heads‘ explains thoroughly,
“This sensory processing impairment causes pain. Sometimes a child’s brain feels overwhelmed or scrambled. Other times, the sensory input is causing direct pain to the brain.”
This is why they may lash out at whatever is in front of them. The pain maybe too hard to take or cause confusion so they try to transfer the pain somewhere else, which may lead to self injury as the doctor stated. One student I worked with would smack his head around as hard as he could towards his shoulder. It was painful to listen to the snapping noise. He would do it when he became nervous, mainly because of too much surrounding noise.
Further Dr. Doherty, a Naturopathic doctor specializing in Autism Disorders adds:
“For children with autism, the balance of brain chemicals change the way they perceive sensory information, dramatically increasing the effect of sensory stimuli on the brain. For some children, this external assault on their brain is so overwhelming that they will bang their heads to drown out the information being picked up through their senses.”
Other Aggressive Behavior issues could be grabbing, hitting or scratching.
There are some good signs that can be misleading without being informed. Hand flapping is good because it helps calm them down and helps regulate the nervous system. It is usually associated with rocking back and forth. So is flickering fingers in front of their eyes, it is a stimulating coping mechanism they can use if there is too much sensory input. It might help drown out the overload. It should be comforting to a caregiver, teacher, or parent that they have ways of calming themselves. Know the signs and know the individual, it will become apparent after working with an individual what their issues, coping methods and their strengths are.
There can also be playful facial expressions that may appear threatening, it may be their way of playing with you. One individual used to make scary faces at me. At first it was intimidating, the grimacing and shutting his eyes, appearing angry. As soon as I showed him I was not afraid he went back to smiling. So don’t always assume the obvious. Sometimes they are playing.
Of course as far as mentally they may be extremely immature. To give you a better understanding, their mental state may not have reached their physical age. Belching and flatulent noises are amusing. Their bodies maybe full grown but mentally they have not developed.
However, everyone who works with them knows they are full of surprises. They will amaze you at what they can do if you give them a chance. Some are more independent than others. Some may need constant reinforcement such as wash one arm than the other arm. Some are good at sports or the arts.
This essay is just to help people become aware of warning signs because every behavior leads to another more aggressive behavior. If you see a warning sign keep out of their reach, more then an arms length. If a person is not trained then don’t try to subdue unless you have to protect yourself.
Another strategy you might try is music if it is available. It can be a soothing thing to help quiet them from an agitated state or if they are tired it me may help them rest.
Hopefully, this will help others take the necessary precautions and at the same time learn sympathy and understanding. They will appreciate the gifts and talents of people with special needs. After all , helping them learn and grow and develop new skills may be the most rewarding and valuable part of spending time with them.
About the Author
Edgar Rider has worked as a substitute teacher in special education for eight years. He has worked in Self Contained Autism, Learning Resource Center, Success, and Life Skills Classrooms. He has been published in Copperfield Review, Modern Times Magazine and Criterion International Journal.
Editor’s Note: Opinions expressed by Autism Daily Newscast Contributors are their own. Dr Sonya Doherty is a registered Defeat Autism Now! (DAN) practitioner who many consider autism pseudoscience. See this opinion piece.