I think everyone in the autism community can agree that one of the first thing that pops into your head when meeting a child with autism is “I wonder why they’re doing what they’re doing”. I know that every time I interact with a child I haven’t worked with before I am very curious to figure out the different types of behaviours and patterns they display but most importantly to figure out why. As we know, each child with autism is completely different. Each child has a different skill set, different likes and dislikes, and exhibits different types of behaviours. No one child with autism is the same as another child with autism. Everyone has their own abilities, therefore will likely benefit from a program specifically designed for them.

So, how does one even go about doing this?

It always seems like there are a million questions that need to be answered immediately when beginning to work with a child with autism but I believe that one of the most important things is to first figure out why they do what they do. This is called the function of behaviour. Figuring out the function of their behaviour is going to answer a lot of questions right from the get go. It seems like a simple thing to do but sometimes this is overlooked. I believe a lot of people think taking data means there is no flexibility with anything that you do. And let’s face it, it sounds pretty intimidating. It really doesn’t need to be like that at all. Collecting ABC data to figure out the function of the behaviour can be the best way to come up with a starting point when working with any child.

ABC data stands for:

Antecedent – what occurs right before the behaviour.

Behaviour – the behaviour.

Consequence – the immediate response or action to the behaviour.

Imagine that every time a child is asked to do something, like clear the table after dinner, they have a complete meltdown and in the end you just end up doing it yourself. Figuring out why they had a meltdown is going to be key to how you proceed to work with this child.

I believe collecting this information is one of the most important steps we can take to proceed in the right direction when setting any child up for success. Figuring out the function of behaviour can also let us know how  our own actions and the environment play a part in their behaviours. We can adjust our actions just as much as we expect children to adjust theirs. Instead of placing blame or high expectations on a child let’s see if adjusting our actions and the environment will change their behaviour. If we know why children behave the way they do and we can adjust things accordingly to set them up for success I believe that we should.

Written by: Sam Edwards, Learning Assistant with the Lighthouse