Thoughts on Autism and Behavior Modification

As I said yesterday, autism sucks sometiems. This doesn’t mean it needs to be eradicated. Then again, not eradicating it doesn’t mean not pursuing treatment for its bothersome symptoms. I would pursue treatment for certain symptoms even in an ideal society. For example, I take medication for irritability and anxiety and see no reason not to.

Where it gets trickier is when I’m forced by circumstances to pursue treatment, and others dictate what kind of treatment I get. I may legally be an adult, but I am not in a position to live without supports, which in essence creates a power dynamic in which my staff largely determine whhih of my symptoms get treated and how. Behavior modification is staff’s favorite treatment modality, and even though originally, behaviorists tended to include the environment in their assessments of behaviors, B-mod has largely gone down to ignoring and/or punishing “negative” behaviors and sometimes rewarding “positive” ones.

I put these two between scare quotes because, what is perceived to be a positive or negative behavior, is not always (or rather, is rarely) objective, and even when a behavior is by most perceived to be positive or negative, the way it’s handled may still vary depending on people’s perceptions of what is behind said behavior (which, I might say, the original behaviorists didn’t care about). For example, as long as I’m not acting out aggressively towards others (which icnludes mild verbal aggression), I can exhibit as much self-directed violence as I need to. I assume the idea behind this is that I’m borderline and borderlines need to be responsible for their own behavior and its consequences. I’ve had people seemingly more annoyed at the fact that they had to take care of my physcal wounds than concerned at the fact that I’d inflicted them.

Now we’ve moved past the times when cognitions, emotions etc. didn’t exist. Lay behaviorists (ie. most staff) have taken just what they want out of behaviorism. I remember in 2008 my diagnosing psychologist recommended a functional bheavioral assessment on my meltdowns. This includes close observation of behavior, antecedents and consequences, in order to hopefully find the stimuli that trigger the aggressive response. Now I’ve not yet figured out what I think of this, but I never got to, since such an assessment never took place. The staff introduced seclusion, used it as a threat when I became even slightly irritable, noticed that made my behaviors decrease and decided this was the cure.

Now let me tell you: autistics have as much emotion, cognition and sensation as neurotypicals, we just experience it differently. If you wouldn’t want to be subjected to harsh behaviorism yourself, then don’t subject an autistic to it. If you want to eradicate a behavior, observe its situational context closely and consider how you would respond in this situation. Is the autistic perhaps trying to communicate the same that you would in this situation, only using a different modality? Are they perhaps responding to sensory overload the same you would, only experiencing this overload differently than you would? If so, consider meeting the autistic’s needs beofre you attempt to modify their hehavior. If you want to modify their behavior anyway, consider whether you would want your preferred B-mod method used on yourself. I think everyone who has the power to seclude, restrain or tranquillize another person, needs to have expierenced it themselves first. Lastly, don’t assume that just because the autistic isn’t displaying behavior that annoys you, it means that they’re coping fine.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Autism and Behavior Modification

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s