Do you use a sensory processing frame of reference in your behavior problem solving for kids with autism? If so, learn how you may be limiting the efficacy of your work:
Let’s talk about behavior problem solving for autism. If you work with kids with autism, you’re using some type of behavior problem solving whether it’s a formal process for you or not. And if it’s not a formal process, what happens is we tend to use the strongest framework that we have and work from there. For many OTs, that’s a sensory processing framework. I’m going to talk about why just using that framework will give you limited results in generating interventions for your kids with autism, and how that can leave you feeling ineffective.
You may think I’m going to say, “It’s not always sensory, sometimes it’s behavior!” But I would argue that a behavioral perspective is just as limited as a sensory processing perspective.
Let’s think about a behavior probably all of us are familiar with: a child who has trouble transitioning between activities. If we just have a sensory processing frame of reference, we’ll hypothesize that this transition struggle is due to over or under-sensitivity or sensory-seeking behaviors. We’ll develop interventions to increase, decrease, or change the sensory input in the activities and in the transition.
Now if we just have a behavioral perspective, we’ll hypothesize that the behavior is either to get out of doing the next activity or to gain attention. And we’ll develop interventions like rewarding the desired behavior and ignoring the challenging behavior.
BOTH of these perspectives may have some validity, but they are inherently limited in their scope. And here’s why: kids with autism have a different learning profile than we, as neurotypical people, do. And we can’t think and hypothesize from their perspective without a formal process to help us shift our outlook. Every kid with autism is different, but they all share some components of how they think and learn.
A truly rich framework to start from with your behavior problem solving for autism is that of AUTISM LEARNING STYLES. You’ll want to consider the child’s difficulty with social communication and social interaction:
1. The child pays less attention to relationships. They may have limited imitation, limited imaginative play, and limited or no social engagement.
2. The child has challenges with their social skills. They likely have difficulty understanding the expectations, understanding subtle social cues, sharing their interests, and adjusting their behavior to different contexts.
3. The child has difficulty with perspective taking. It’s probably hard for them to imagine and understand that other people think, perceive, and feel differently than they do. Which often makes emotion-based consequences and incentives very ineffective.
4. Expressive language may be hard for them.
You’ll also want to consider that the child probably has restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests:
1. They probably have fewer interests than their peers, and these interests may be very strong or rigid.
2. They likely form routines quickly, and these routines can be hard to change once they are formed.
3. They probably have some sensory differences (Yes this is one piece of it!! It’s just not the whole piece).
And, finally, they probably have a different learning profile:
1. Receptive language is a relative weakness, which may present as a visual learning style. This doesn’t mean that they have particularly strong visual learning skills, just that it is a relative strength.
2. Implicit learning may be limited. They likely have trouble learning certain things that have not been explicitly taught to them in a way they can understand.
3. And they may have executive functioning challenges, including:
a. Difficulty understanding time
b. Trouble breaking things down into smaller steps
c. Challenges with initiating
d. Difficulty with the concept of finished
e. Trouble identifying main point versus details (central coherence)
f. Difficulty shifting attention (attentional set shifting)
This is the framework we need to do truly rich behavior problem solving for our kids with autism. When we start from a deep understanding of autism learning styles, we can generate so many more relevant and effective hypotheses and interventions.
If you want to dive even deeper into how kids with autism think and learn and really improve your behavior problem solving, I’m going to be teaching a live webinar on autism learning styles and behavior problem solving. I’ll teach you my exact process that helps me generate a rich and thorough list of hypotheses and interventions every single time, and I’ll give you my workbook and my fillable PDF with the whole process laid out for you each time you sit down to figure out what interventions you want to use for a particular behavior.
If you never learn an autism-specific process, you’ll keep muddling through with pieces of an intervention that never really add up to something truly effective. It’s time to go way deeper so that you can feel like a true expert and become much more confident in your behavior problem solving for kids with autism. See you in the live webinar! (Don't worry if you can't make it live, there's a recorded replay for everyone who registers!). https://www.learnplaythrive.com/behavior-mini-training