Too often we hear ‘what a terrible child’ or ‘they just need some discipline’ or ‘if that were my child, they wouldn’t be allowed to behave like that’. Give me a few minutes of your time and let me educate you if you are one of these people.
Imagine being unable to communicate, being unable to understand what others are saying to you or understand what you are meant to do. Now imagine if you were unable to tell that person or people that you couldn’t understand them or were struggling. I can imagine you would get frustrated and irritated. Now chuck into the mix someone flashing a torch in your face or a fog horn sounding right into your ear. If you’re still with me, you are now only beginning to imagine how someone with Autism experiences the world. Being unable to communicate, unable to tell someone you are upset, in pain or even excited or happy.
Fight or Flight
When we were Neanderthals, we had two simple responses to a threat or feelings of fear. Fight or Flight. The brain still functions very similar to this. To make it simple our brains are comprosed of three areas we are concerned with, the Pre-frontal cortex, the Limbic Brain and the Reptilian brain. The first two are responsible for our communication, reasoning, feelings of empathy and so on. Our reptilian brain is concerned with one thing and one thing only, survival. When anyone is dealing with a hard time or a situation they find threatening the Reptilian brain takes over brain function. This can result in two options Fight or Flight. Now often you will notice the Fight response, this is where the child or adult may become verbally or physically aggressive towards those around them or property, in an attempt to deter or conquer the threat they are presented with. If that person’s brain responds with Flight the person may physically run away or shutdown (draw into themselves, find it hard to communicate and become very withdrawn).
It can take up to 24 hours for the brain to begin to regulate itself again, anything that could trigger another explosion during this time most probably will.
Now we often hear from Parents and carers that their child goes from 0-60 in seconds, we call this the Amagylia Hijack.
This ‘hijack’ can happen in seconds and almost instantly without any prior notice. It’s our brains taking control if it senses an acute threat or danger.
When a child or adult is experiencing a ‘meltdown’ (to coin the popular phrase) they are unaware of their surrondings, the individuals or their actions at that point in time and normally after the event as well.
How do you tell the difference between a ‘meltdown’ and a tantrum? Look a the eyes. Is that person is looking for acknowledgement or to see how people are reacting? That’s normally a tantrum. ‘Meltdowns’ or during a heightened emotional state (we like to refer to it as) the individual will be unaware of their surrondings, therefore, won’t seek acknowledgement or look to see if they are being watched.
If you see someone having a bad time the worst thing you can do is judge or make unhelpful comments. Next time simply ask their caregiving or whoever is with them: Is there anything I can do to help? They may say No, but just the offering of help and support can mean the world to someone who is trying to deal with challenging behaviour, just knowing someone understands is normally enough.
Don’t think that this Fight or Flight response and Amyglia Hijack is just for those on the spectrum, we are all capable of such behaviour it is just that the majority of us are able to regulate our emotions and express what is troubling us without having to display it aggressively.
Dont fuel the fire. Ask if they need help?
So you see, ‘bad behaviour’ isn’t bad behaviour. It is simply a person who is having a hard time and their brain taking control. The last thing they want or need is someone to fuel the fire and make things worse.
If you want more information on challenging and managing challenging behaviour we have a resource packed full of information and ideas available on our shop for just £2.00. Or get it for free on Free Resource day Thursday (04/04/2019) using the code ‘ASDaware’.