What is Autism – the three main challenges:
    A well-rounded program that supports people with autism to live as independently as possible must start with an understanding of how autism commonly affects the human brain in general. Using this lens of understanding, it is then necessary to pinpoint exactly how autism manifests in each individual. People with Autism spectrum disorder have three main challenges: Communication, Behaviors and Social Skills

Our Philosophy and Mission

    The Whole Self Center’s philosophy suggests that every human being is more than a body with a brain. When caring for a child – a whole person - we are experiencing the creative spirit present in that child & in ourselves.

    • As we remain interested in exploring creative possibilities for the individual in the moment, we are more open to experiencing something new, such as developing a valuable skill we never knew or thought was possible.
    • In this way, we are less likely to stay stuck in repeating our old, inhibiting habits & behaviors.
    • By living this understanding with individuals with autism, we continue to become better able to respect & support children for who they already are, deserving of love & attention simply for being.

Autism - Behaviors

Behaviors – The following behaviors are not solely exhibited by people with autism, but these behaviors seem to have an increased prevalence and severity for those who are diagnosed with autism.

    • Stereotypy is repetitive movement, such as hand flapping, making sounds, head rolling, or body rocking.
    • Compulsive behavior is intended and appears to follow rules, such as arranging objects in stacks or lines.
    • Sameness is resistance to change; for example, insisting that the furniture not be moved or refusing to be interrupted.
    • Ritualistic behavior involves an unvarying pattern of daily activities, such as an unchanging menu or a dressing ritual.
    • Restricted behavior is limited in focus, interest, or activity, such as preoccupation with a single television program, toy, or game.
    • Self injury includes movements that injure or can injure the person, such as eye poking, skin picking, hand biting, and head banging. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autism

We often hear caregivers and educators make statements about people on the spectrum, such as, “he has behaviors” or “her behaviors are inappropriate” or “his behaviors need to be extinguished”.   As we understand that all behavior is associated with how an individual is meeting personal needs. 

    • We eat because we want to satisfy hunger.  We scream because we want to express our fear.  We tap our foot to relieve nervous energy.  We become aggressive to send a message.  Seeing behaviors as “wrong or bad” or seeking to extinguish them would be equal to seeking to extinguish a person’s approach to communicate what he/she needs.  Head banging is dangerous, but it also serves a purpose.  For this reason it is best if caregivers use consistent methods of supporting the individual to find a more effective way to communicate his/her needs.
    • The key is to make a sincere attempt to understand the reason for the behavior.  When we ask ourselves, what is the individual trying to tell us or what does the individual need, we are allowing ourselves to be curious about the individual.  Rather than first viewing the behavior as something to fight or correct, we remember that the behavior has a function.  We do not immediately assume the person is getting back at us or punishing us.  We don’t have to take the behavior personally.
    • Professionals have created categories of the functions of autistic behaviors.  The categories are (1) to escape a demand, (2) to obtain a tangible item (3) to meet a sensory need (4) to seek attention.  The categories are helpful when trying to understand a challenging behavior in the moment.  It might take a few minutes to assess why a person is head banging.  Yes, it is necessary to do everything possible to protect the person from injury, but knowing the individual, you might be able to quickly determine that he is possibly frustrated that his computer froze.  By restarting it as soon as possible, you might avert the person from getting so upset that he cannot calm down.  Remembering that the person is an individual with human needs helps us to get less caught up in fixating on the negative behavior and more interested in understanding how to support the person to get his/her needs met in other ways.
    • There are many ways we can support people with autism to use effective means of communication – and therefore lessen their need to engage in destructive behavior.  Teaching a functional skill may be the most direct approach.  Think about it:  Suppose you didn’t have any way of communicating that you were thirsty and you didn’t know how to pour water for yourself.  Suppose the person who cares for you arrives and sees that you are agitated.  Without considering your basic physical need, your caregiver tries to get you involved in activities.  You are too thirsty to care about activities, and as a result, you and your caregiver get caught up in a power struggle because in your caregiver’s eyes, you are refusing to do what you’re told.  Worse than that, you stay thirsty until the caregiver decides it’s time for you to have a drink.  Not having your basic need for a drink met, and having demands placed on you that have nothing to do with what would truly satisfy you, it would be understandable that you would engage in “inappropriate” behaviors.
    • Our intention is to reduce the frequency and intensity of power struggles between individuals with autism and their caregivers.   Positive Behavior Support (PBS) is not just about reinforcements and/or consequences. PBS does not focus on punishment for inappropriate behavior or even providing rewards for compliance and obedience. PBS is a method of instructing a person in a way that emphasizes functional skill development.  Instead of reducing or controlling behaviors, we are developing skills, such as asking for a drink.
    • We have to trust that it is possible for an individual with autism to learn to use more effective ways to get personal needs met. It is best if family members and caregivers relate to the individual with consistency, and that everyone works together and communicates with one another to reveal what is supporting the individual and what is contributing to continued stress.  While it is not completely in our control to assure that a person with autism can learn and develop in order to live safely in his/her home without serious incidents, it is in our control to make the effort to continue to understand the needs, interests, and humanity of the individual.