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The Way I See It by Temple Grandin

Over and over, I get asked the same vague questions when a parent or teacher asks me to help them with a behavior problem. The questions lack specificity, making it difficult for you to provide a clear answer. A typical question would be, “How do you handle autistic behavior problems in the classroom?” This question does not provide enough information to enable me to answer it. From this question, I have absolutely no idea what kind of behavior problem the child has. Many people tend to overgeneralize by assuming that mentioning "autism" alone offers enough information to address the issue.

There are a series of questions I will need to ask:

  1. Age: This is important because a method for handling tantrums in a three-year-old would not be appropriate for a 16-year-old.

  2. Verbal ability and daily living skills: After about age five, it is essential to know this. Behavioral strategies that may work well with a child who has good speech may not be effective with a child who has a more severe form of autism. When I was five or six, I was able to understand that the consequence for throwing tantrums at school was no TV for one night. This method of discipline was effective for me. A child with more severe autism may not be able to make the association between a tantrum at school and the delayed consequence that would happen in the evening. For many behaviors, it is important to differentiate between when a person does not have the ability to do something versus when that person willfully does not want to do it.

  1. Describe the behavior problem: There are many behavior problems that can occur in a classroom, which could have many different causes. Below are some examples:

  2. Covers his/her ears and screams during a fire drill. This would be a sound sensitivity problem.

  3. Talks out of turn in class. This is a child who needs to learn to wait to take turns. For a young child under ten, playing board games may help him or her learn how to wait for his turn. Professionals call this “problems with executive function.” I will call it simply “learning how to wait for your turn.”

  4. Runs around the classroom and refuses to sit still. This is a child who may need a lot more exercise. Deep pressure or an athletic pressure garment may be beneficial. For more information, refer to the sensory section on my webpage: www.templegrandin.com.

  5. Tantrums in the classroom. The initial step involves identifying the cause of the tantrum. There are four main causes of tantrums: 1) Reacting to sensory overload; 2) Seeking attention; 3) Trying to get out of doing something; or

4. Getting something the child wants, such as playing video games, When I was eight, there were consequences for tantrums. The consequence was no TV for one night. However, I never faced consequences for having a tantrum triggered by a loud noise. That's why it's crucial for teachers and parents to pinpoint the cause of a behavior. Unfortunately, there are some children who have learned that throwing a tantrum will make the adults give in and provide the video game to stop the tantrum.

I hope this article will help you approach behavior problems in a more detailed manner. In my work with both human and animal behavior problems, there is often a tendency

to overgeneralize. To successfully solve behavior problems, you have to ask enough questions or analyze the situation in context to determine the cause of the behavior. 

Temple is widely recognized as an expert in designing livestock handling systems. She is the most notedly person with autism in the world today.


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