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Noncompliance

It seems that in the field of autism, there’s one word that tends to fray the nerves of Miss Lisha: noncompliance. In my book, the word ‘noncompliance’ is second only to the word ‘behavior’. Both of these terms mean little to nothing in the grand scheme of things. Behavior implies something happened and noncompliance implies you are a ‘My Way or The Highway’ kind of person. I imagine that Miss Lisha is noncompliant most of the day, everyday. I also imagine that the United States of America was founded by a group of noncompliant individuals. History, science, medicine, art, and music are often moved forward through the lives and thoughts of noncompliant people. Imagine if Galileo had been a compliant scientist? Noncompliant people tend to think differently—and as I’ve said a hundred times and I’ll say a hundred more, it’s always a good thing when we look at the world in a different light.

In the world of autism, noncompliance is not always a bad thing—if you understand the meaning of the behaviors behind it. If you find yourself using the words ‘noncompliance’ and ‘behavior’ too much, it’s time to re-evaluate how you look at the world.

Everyday, every single day, someone tells me about how horrible the behaviors are for a child they work with or live with. Behaviors rarely happen for no reason. Behaviors are communicating something, even if you don’t understand what that something is. A child with autism doesn’t wake up every morning thinking of ways to undermine your life. A child with autism wakes up every day and wonders how he’ll make it through in one piece. Behaviors have meaning. If we choose to ignore that meaning, we do so at the risk of misunderstanding the situation and the child, thus helping no one.

If you can’t express your thoughts and you rarely understand your own internal environment, it’s down right impossible to rationally sit down with someone else and discuss your problems. When you can’t communicate with your mouth or with your hands, you’ll find a way to communicate and I can assure you it is rarely appropriate in polite society. If you duct tape my mouth and if you tie my hands and if you hand me a Diet Pepsi instead of a Diet Coke, believe me I will try and kick your kneecaps right off in an attempt to communicate that I much prefer the Diet Coke. Behaviors are telling you a story. Behaviors tell you that I want or don’t want something. The behaviors tell you that I can’t handle this. The behaviors tell you that this hurts me. As others before me have said, it is not a “will not issue” with these children, it is a “cannot issue.” The child who is kicking and screaming and biting is saying I CANNOT do this—it may hurt, it may be overwhelming, it may be confusing and whatever it may be, it sure as heck is not OK.

Let’s take a child in a preschool classroom who is being asked to participate in a game of ring around the rosie. Sounds innocent enough right? Maybe, maybe not. There’s singing, there’s physical touch, there’s side to side and circular movement—all things that can send an autistic individual into the upper atmosphere. If you experience this in a much more traumatic manner than the next child, you will run away. You will refuse to participate. You will cry and scream if dragged to the circle. You will be noncompliant. This noncompliance means we have a child who understands him or herself. This noncompliance means we have a child communicating with us. We can either choose to respect the message given by the noncompliant child or we can choose to force the noncompliant child into what he or she perceives as a dangerous situation. Think of the message that you send to the child with autism as you force him or her to participate in an activity he or she finds threatening. No means no except when you say it. This message is most assuredly not a positive one.

If you find yourself with a consistently noncompliant child, I can guarantee you that the child is not the problem—you are. Throw the word ‘noncompliance’ out of your vocabulary and begin to help the child be successful. I leave you with a final thought, in the words of Mahatma Ghandi, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

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I'm not referring to any dance moves here.192.168.2.1