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A Little Word About Behaviors

Most of your experienced parents and professionals will talk about a child’s behaviors and what they are like. A person who is new to all of this is trying to figure out a truckload of information and is now trying to determine exactly what a ‘behavior’ is. Well, there are lots and lots of different kinds of behaviors that children on the Autism Spectrum can have and do. One kind of behavior is the meltdown. You may not have known the proper term when your child is completely freaking out in the Target parking lot and people are coming out of the store and their cars to take a look at what is going on, but that, my friend, is a meltdown. My son has had lots of these at some really inconvenient (at least for me) times and places. Some of you may be saying, well a meltdown is really just a fancy smancy way of saying temper tantrum and this child needs a good spanking. You would be missing the point entirely. A child on the Autism Spectrum is dealing with a lot of information in a way that is very, very hard for the typical person to grasp. By the time your child has reached the meltdown stage, that child is completely and utterly overwhelmed. 
I read a book once by a very talented person name Temple Grandin (who also happens to have a form of autism) and I would highly recommend anything she writes. I remember reading once that Temple hears people blink. Let me say that again, she hears people blink. That means that when she’s trying to talk to you, she is trying to tune out the sound your eyelids make when you blink. I don’t know if you’ve every tried to hear this sound but the typical person just doesn’t hear this. So can you imagine if you are a child and you are trying to make it through the day and not only do you hear people blink, but you are practically blinded by the lights in the store, your clothes are touching your skin in ways that only a tortured person can understand, and you trying to understand why your mom decided to take you to the red store instead of the brown one like she always does on Tuesdays. Can you imagine not having a meltdown in this kind of situation? 
In these types of situations, this behavior can be caused by sensory overload. The best ways to deal with these are by incorporating sensory integration activities into your day, everyday, and to have the professional guidance and treatment offered by an Occupational Therapist. OT’s are another group of people sent from heaven, plus they’re usually really peppy, happy people. I don’t know why, but OT schools just draw in these kinds of people—they just like to have fun, which works out really, really well for the children they work with!
Other types of behaviors are ones that occur because of a communication breakdown. Behaviors are a form of communication—your child is telling you something when they are having one. We’ve learned that children can have behaviors because of sensory problems but they can also have them because a lack of communication skills. Think of it this way, if your child is nonverbal with no alternate form of communication, you have to speak for your child. A lot of that is based on guessing or assuming that you know what your child wants. What if you’ve been guessing wrong? What if you guess part of it correctly and part of it wrong? For example, say you’ve been able to figure out your child wants pizza. So you take you child out to Papa John’s and he or she FLIPS out and just completely loses it. You thought they wanted pizza, what went wrong? What if they wanted pizza, but wanted to go to Pizza Hut and not Papa John’s? The ONLY form of communicating the non-verbal young child has in his or her arsenal is a BEHAVIOR.

The approach that can comprehensively deal with many behaviors and meltdowns involves sensory integration treatment with an Occupational Therapist and speech therapy with a Speech Therapist, AND an alternative form of communicating. Please check out our section on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) to learn more about communication that doesn’t involve using your natural voice.