Stop Managing Behaviors

I was reading a few journal articles the other day regarding parenting children with ASD. As I read one after another I was repeatedly struck by the phrase “managing behaviors.” This task, if you will, was one of the major topics of concern highlighted within the research. Every time I read this phrase it became more and more aversive to me. I thought hard, trying to figure out what was rubbing me the wrong way about it, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. It wasn’t until later when I was working on my own writing task that, as if free from conscious effort, I began typing: supporting and responding to the child’s unique expression of ASD symptoms.

That’s when it hit me. What irks me so badly about “managing behaviors” is that it is just that: a tunnel vision focus on behaviors as the problem. When using the DIR model, we think of every behavior as having a purpose, and it is our task to find out what that purpose is.

The way I think of it is like this: ASD brings with it unique neurological differences that can influence or cause symptoms. Differences in motor planning, social interaction style, language development, emotional regulation, sensory integration, and sensory sensitivities are just some examples of these differences. How these differences are expressed and become symptoms depends on the environment (relationships included) that the child is developing within. Or, to nutshell it, let’s rephrase it like this: based on how the child’s environment and relationships interact with his or her neurological differences impacts the expression of ASD symptoms. What happens next is the visible symptoms we experience are typically labeled as behaviors, which are then typically labeled as problematic, which are then targeted, or “managed.”

I want to encourage everyone to stop managing behaviors and start wondering what is underneath the behavior. Start wondering why ASD symptoms are expressed by the child in a certain way and start investigating the purpose of those expressions as the child navigates his or her environment with the neurobiological differences present in his or her brain and body.

Once we do so, we shift from managing behaviors to supporting and responding to the child’s unique expression of symptoms. When we support the child’s expression of symptoms, we are better able to support the child in reaching his or her potential.