Autism: the importance of accepting atypical behaviours
Autism: the importance of accepting atypical behaviours by Lucia Cifres Campos MA
Most people dealing with autistic children attempt to eradicate their atypical behaviours in order to replace them with socially acceptable behaviours. I believe this attempt negatively impacts their progress. Individuals with autism behave in specific ways to manage their emotions, just as people without autism. The difference is that their brains function differently in response to certain situations, which leads them to carry out distinct behaviours.
What we all need to know as a society. We are all unique.
For example, people with autism avoid eye contact because the brain area involved in processing the social aspect of looking at a person in the eye functions in an opposite manner to that of people without autism. When a person with autism looks at a person’s face, this brain area is silent, whereas it is active in people without autism. The opposite is also true – When a person with autism is looking away from a person’s face, this brain area is active, whereas it is silent in people without autism (1). This contrary brain activity leads people with autism to feel calmer when they do not look at other people in the eye, and to feel anxious when they do. This emotional discrepancy occurs because their brains process the social interaction differently, for instance by misinterpreting the meaning behind the person’s direct gaze. Therefore, it would be beneficial to explain and reiterate to individuals with autism that it is positive to be looked at, however they should not be forced to redirect their gaze.
Given that autism often coexists with other disorders (such as dyslexia), repressing atypical behaviours is often not only detrimental to their emotional wellbeing, but also to the improvement of their condition, because if they feel anxious and agitated, they are less likely to perform other activities well.
Their behaviours, although different, serve the same purpose, which is to protect the individual and aid their ability to function properly in whichever environment they are in. For this reason, atypical behaviours (such as fixatedly watching whilst rotating an object) should not be repressed unless 1) they are harmful to others or themselves, 2) it has been dictated by a healthcare professional, or 3) the performance of such behaviours occurs for such a significantly extensive time that it prevents them from carrying out necessary activities. (For clear guidance on specific cases, please consult a specialist).
Although atypical behaviours may be deemed inappropriate by societal standards, the potential consequences of repressing them are significant for the child. Therefore, atypical behaviours ought to be accepted given that our children’s wellbeing should always be our utmost priority.
- Pitskel, N. B., Bolling, D. Z., Hudac, C. M., Lantz, S. D., Minshew, N. J., Vander Wyk, B. C., & Pelphrey, K. A. (2011). Brain mechanisms for processing direct and averted gaze in individuals with autism. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 41(12), 1686–1693. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-011-1197-x