to effectively manage behaviours you need to understand why they are happening

Addressing behaviours is often like solving a mystery. Just focus on the behaviour and you will likely end up frustrated, hoarse and defeated. Try to work out the reasons behind the behaviours, and you have a greater chance of successfully reduced the unwanted behaviours.

I have previously written about dealing with my son's challenging behaviours which often left me feeling overwhelmed, and the questioning of whether our parenting was to blame. I searched for weeks on end for answers on how to stop a variety of behaviours including biting, constantly shouting, meltdowns, refusing to co-operate and not paying attention in class.

No matter what we tried the behaviours got worse. Our son refused to listen and life became increasingly difficult. The lowest point came the day that he was found holding a cushion over a classmates face. I was mortified and concerned that my son was beyond help, as nothing we said made any difference and we felt powerless to change his behaviours.

Something had to change. We had to change.

Understanding more about anxiety and meltdowns, helped us to reframe our thinking and move away from thinking that we needed to discipline the behaviours we wanted to stop. It was a leap of faith, and one that many people around us didn't agree with. After all, you don't want to let children get away with "naughty behaviour". Just think of how much worse they will get without being disciplined.

Let's stop for a minute and think about what we were trying to achieve. We were trying to stop the behaviours. Discipline is just one way of trying to achieve this. In our case, disciplining negative behaviour and rewarding positive behaviour wasn't working. Our son didn't seem to be in control of his actions, it was as if he was permanently in a state of "fight or flight". Trying a different approach does not mean that we are ignoring the behaviour, is just means that we are trying to find a more productive way of addressing it.

So we started to ask why.

With each new incident, we tried to understand more about what was happening. What were the events leading to the incident? Were there any common factors prior to the incidents? Could our son have sensory issues? Could our son be anxious?  If so, what could be the source of that anxiety? Did our son have the skills to effectively deal with challenging situations?

We began to build a picture of where the real issues were, and were able to identify the triggers which would lead to negative behaviours.

This included:

  • Sensory and proprioception issues
  • Social communication difficulties
  • Difficulty adjusting to uncertainty & unexpected change
  • Over-stimulation in social events
  • Challenges with seeing something from another person's point of view
  • Emotional self-regulation & impulse control
  • A need to feel in control
  • Limited understanding of the impact his actions have on other people

By spending time working out and adressing the underlying reasons, we have been able to address the behaviours which have largely disappeared and we are no longer in the state of high alert that we were once in. This has taken us years to understand, and there are parts of the picture that still aren't clear but we are getting there.

We now look out for early warning signs. As soon as I start to see the signs, I take a step back and try to figure out what has changed. Often it is something quite obvious like an impending holiday or birthday, where my son is struggling to manage his excitement or is struggling with the uncertainty of what to expect. Other times it is less obvious and we spend weeks trying to work it out. Focusing on trying to understand the reasons has boosted my own resilience as I no longer feel powerless to change things, and know that when things get difficult it will pass as soon as we identify the reason.

Interestingly, my son is not the only person that I use this approach with. I have noticed that I am increasingly using this approach at work. If someone becomes increasingly difficult or confrontational at work, the first thing I do is to try work out why. As a project manager whose job it is to bring about change, this has helped me to work through challenging moments and to look beyond the immediate problems to identify the true issues which are preventing us from moving fowards.

Dealing with challenging behaviours is still not easy for me and I still have moments when it all gets too much, however focusing on understanding "why" has helped me to cope and to feel more in control. After all, you need to understand where someone is coming from before you can point them in the direction you want them to go.

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Do you struggle with challenging behaviour? How do you work out the hidden reasons? What strategies work for you?

changing mindsets to support autistic people is often the greatest reasonable adjustment needed

I first learnt about reasonable adjustments when trying to stop my son's school from excluding him because of his challenging behaviour, almost three years ago. The daily stress was exhausting and frustrating as we desperately tried to persude them to support rather than exclude him. Looking back, I can see that we were fighting for the most difficult of reasonable adjustments, which costs nothing. A change in mindset.

There were many reasons given as to why reasonable adjustments could not be made. Cost, time, and availability of staff. There was even the view of not wanting to give allowances or "special treatment" in comparison to the other children.

I wonder how different things would have been if they realised that the biggest, and most impactful change, was a change in their own perspective. Viewing my son's behaviours as something other than him being naughty or out of control. How different it would have been if they had been open to exploring what was possible rather than forcing us into a corner where we had no option but to fight the exclusion.

Without the emotional battering we could have focused on my son's needs and making informed decsions. We most likely still would have left the school, but without the guilt and shame that we were made to feel when our son's behaviours became increasingly challenging.

I know that we are not the only ones. I know of many parents with similar battles, and struggling against a negative mindset is a common theme in their stories. The parents blamed for their children's behavour, the teachers unwilling to consider even the simplest of reasonable adjustments, and the children accused of willfully acting up.

In fact, this is not something that it limited to schools and education. It carries on into the workplace, and the society around us.

People discounted for being different, or excluded because they don't fit someone elses definition of success. Written off for not being sociable and outspoken, struggling to be a team player and being difficult to get along with. Behaviours are judged without understanding and terms like "lacking gravitas" and "not being a cultural fit" are used as generic reasons for saying no.

In many of these cases making reasonable adjustments could lead to a different outcome and a different set of behaviours. This could include training, changes to the workplace environment and support in difficult situations. If only people could see what could be possible if we approached common activities a little differently.

My son is an example of how little changes can make a major difference. In a more understanding environment, his behavioural issues virtually disappeared overnight. He went from being physically isolated from the other children in his class and refusing to participate in any lessons, to having friends he regularly plays with at school and being a voracious reader with a love of Maths & Science. We have a long way to go for him to make up for the two years that he missed out on, but we have made great strides. If only the first school had been more open to considering what might be possible, and we didn't have to fight so hard to bring about the changes he needed.

The reality though is that without a changing mindset, the likelihood of anyone being willing to consider any reasonable adjustments is low.

Changing mindsets

I am just beginning to learn about what it takes to start changing mindsets, and I know that that I still have much to learn about this. I also know that this is the most challenging thing of all. From the conversations I have had with teachers, colleagues and carers of autistic children I believe that changing mindsets starts with the following.

Establish relationships. It is much easier to get people onside when you have taken the time to invest in the relationship. Whether it is finding ways to help out at school or putting in time with colleagues to help them with their own problems, this extra effort can pay huge dividends when you most need it.

Enlist help. This could be other parents, local support groups, colleagues or charities. It is easier to bring about change when a larger group of people are calling for the change, and the support of additional people around you can help you keep going through the tough times.

Highlight the benefits. Showing how embracing the change could be beneficial for others will help win them over. Whether it is highlighting to a teacher how some of the reasonable adjustments could be benficial for other children in the class, or highlighting to team members how a change in working style could bring about better results for the team.

Share examples of success. Sharing examples where changes have been successfully implemented elsewhere can help to reduce the resistence to change. Talk with other families, charities or organisations to find examples of success cases that you can reference to build your own case for change.

Prepare to be challenged. Not everyone is going to agree, no matter what you try. Be prepared to be challenged, and use your support network to help you through the challenging times. Often persistence and perseverence are the only ways to keep moving foward until you find an alternative way to work around the people standing in your way.

Sometime it is so tempting to step back and say "this is too hard". I know that I often feel that way. At times like that I remind myself of why I am doing this, and take comfort in the fact that I am not alone.

I believe that we will change mindsets, both individually and collectively. For me there is no other option.

Spectrum Sunday

You can find me on Twitter and Facebook. You can also sign up here to receive future blog posts from me, as well as my weekly round up of SEN & autism blog posts from other great bloggers.

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Have you struggled with needing to change mindsets? What strategies have you used for changing mindsets?

The change I want to make for neurodiversity

So much can happen in a year, and this year I am hoping to have an eventful one.

A common question I was asked last year was “What do you want to do?". I found it difficult to tell others what I was thinking as I felt it wouldn’t come across in the way I wanted, but I did write it down. Re-reading what I wrote, I can see that my hopes for 2018 closely align with what I wrote. Now I just need to work out what I am going to do to make it happen.

July 2017

I have been open about my hidden hopes and fears, and yet I still have the frustration of not feeling like the world understands me, or accepts me for who I am. I want the world to embrace and accept me. Understanding that I may be challenging when I feel challenged, and be able to look past initial judgements to understand the person I really am.

I wish I could find a way to tell them what I really want to say.

I am autistic.

I am tired of trying to jump through hoops. Don't tell me I need to change, take time to understand me and think about how best to work with me.

I don’t like networking, small talk with people I don’t know and having socially demanding conversations where there is unresolved conflict. Don’t tell me it is easy, or that everyone finds it difficult. Help me find someone to be my social bridge, so I can partner with them to achieve a much better outcome for us all.

I can’t cope with major uncertainty, unclear expectations and unexpected change / challenges to previously agreed approaches. I need time to work it through, so give me the space to process it rather than expect me to agree or comment on the spot.

I need to find a better way of finding help when things are not going to plan and my anxiety threatens to undo all the progress that I have made. Don’t judge me when I am drowning, throw me some support so I can make my way back to shore where I can stand again.

I need to find a way to focus on what I want to say - without loosing people as my brain jumps from topic to topic as it connects the many ideas that are racing through my mind. Don’t tell me to be more concise all the time, my greatest insights come from these seemingly manic streams of dialogue. Allow me these initial chaotic conversations where I can work through my ideas, and then we can follow up with the more structured reviews.

I want to help my team, and others, grow.

I want to be involved in work that I find interesting and challenging.

I want to be thought of as delivering something of value.

I want to feel appreciated and valued

I want to make a difference.

January 2018

This is the year I start to make a difference - for me, my family, at work and possibly a little further afield.

For 6 months I have been talking about establishing neurodiversity at work, and becoming a spokesperson for the importance of neurodiversity and embracing people's differences rather than trying to make them fit a mould that is not right for them. This is the year I turn my words into action.

For too long I have struggled with the anxiety of not living up to social expectations or fitting in with others, to the extent that I have become my own worse critic each time I struggle in socially demanding situations.

Last year I discovered that there can be another way for me. A way where I can achieve my career goals without trying to be someone else. 

I brought about my own reasonable adjustments. This involved opening up and talking to the people close to me about situations I find challenging and working out what I need to thrive. It has made a difference. I feel less pressure to try to be someone I am not, and it turns out that people appreciate my honesty. I have also learnt that people are more understanding when I explain in advance. As a result, my anxiety is lower and I feel more comfortable with the people around me.

This is the me that I want to embrace. This is the change that I want to help bring about for other people (if they want it). This is what I want to do.

I am hopeful in my boldness, even when my legs shake at the thought of what I am wanting to achieve.

Here’s to my little dream becoming a reality.

Life and ASC
2017 / 2018 new year

The passing of time is one thing we can't put off until tomorrow. As I sit here thinking about the year we say goodbye to and the year that we say hello to, I can't stop thinking about how much importance we attribute to this one day in the year. A marker of time. A point at which we stop and think about our lives and where we are heading.

A time to throw off the over-indulgence of the Christmas period, and enter into a time of self-reflection and self-restraint.

This year, I am sat at home tucked under a blanket in front of the fire and am curious about what the year ahead will bring. With so much going on in our lives, I don't really take time out to plan ahead or set out my goals. For me, it is all about getting through each day and working it out as we go.

That said, it has been a big year for us.

First I embraced my own vulnerability and decided to be open about my hidden hopes and fear. This then led me onto a journey which resulted in my being diagnosed as autistic and achieving a promotion that I have been working towards for the past 5 years.

The other big change this year has been in my relationship with my Eldest. This year we have managed to go from him refusing to engage with me (except at birthdays when I was needed to bake a cake) to sitting on my talking about all things Pokemon.

Looking to 2018 I am hopeful of two things - that I am able to establish a neurodiversity network at my work and that my family finds a way to make every day a little less stressful and a little more positive as we continue to find ways to support each other through the things that we struggle with.

Beyond this, I can't think of what I want for 2018. All I can say is that I hope that this time next year I am happy, and have wonderful memories of a year well spent with the family.

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