Most parents of children with autism ask themselves why their child behaves in a strange, unnatural, problematic way.
Sometimes they talk about dangerous and severe behaviors, sometimes mainly about annoying or disgusting ones.
Decades of research show that both acceptable and unacceptable behaviors are learned and maintained by interactions with physical and social environment (Cooper, Heron & Heward, 2007).
Whatever behavior, adaptive or not, is learned
Every action has consequences. These consequences establish if the same actions, in the same circumstances, will be repeated in the future or not.
The way to understand the motivations behind some strange and unclear behaviors is to ask oneself: what happened immediately after they behaved in a certain way?
How do they benefit from their behavior?
A lot of research (e.g.: Iwata et al., 1982) have shown, loud and clear, that anything people do has two possible functions:
- Removing something
- Obtaining something
What generally happens AFTER Tom spits to someone is the reason why he keeps doing it.
I always scold him but he keeps doing that!
If Tom constantly spits at other people, and every single time some adults reprimand him, as unbelievable as it might sound, there is a high probability that it is the reprimand itself the specific consequence the child wants to achieve.
Tom might enjoy:
- Seeing a disgusted or angry face
- Hearing the high pitched or strong voice of someone reprimanding him
- Seeing hand gestures and movement of others
- Being watched by all people around
How can I get across to him that what he is doing is wrong!?
If we use the same principles by which Tom learned to spit around, it is possible to teach him to behave in a more functional and suitable way.
A properly trained Behavior Analyst can help you to teach your child new steady and lifelong behaviors and skills, so that you can improve your family quality of life.