What is the meaning of “challenging behavior”? We use the term “challenging behavior” to describe behaviors not typical of children with autism. The moment you use the word “challenging behavior,” you’ve created a stigma that says, “You’re a deviant child; you’re acting out.” which is a stigmatizing term.
The moment you label your child as having “challenging behavior,” the child becomes an object of correction for the therapist or the parent. Then all child behaviors are marked as “O X, right or wrong.” And the parent or therapist becomes combative: “You’re a challenging child, and we’re going to fix the way you’re behaving. And they use the term “remove” to describe their determination to make the behavior go away. Oh my God, “removing,” is there something about a child’s behavior like it’s dirty, that needs to be erased. I think using the term challenging behavior or removing is a child-abusive attitude and perspective, and it makes me angry when I see parents or therapists use that term.
Every child’s behavior has a message. Whether it’s asking for something they want, rejecting a particular state of being, or choosing to act out in hopes of people’s affection or to get attention, it’s just that the expression of that message is often presented in a way that we don’t recognize.
The behaviors of children with autism have the same background and meaning as those of typical children, even though they look different. There’s no difference in how they think or feel. If there is a difference, it’s that they choose to behave in a way that we don’t typically understand, a way that is hard to interpret. Children with autism have to use their bodies because their verbal expressions are not developed yet, and their body movement is also immature, so they do things and behave in strange ways.
We often don’t understand and interpret the true meaning behind their sounds. Understanding and interpreting the intentions and purpose behind their body movements is even more challenging. In this way, it’s not about the autistic child’s behavior but the parents and therapists who can’t interpret the inside of the child. We must try to listen and observe what is happening inside the child. That’s why Stanley Greenspan talks about following the child’s affect. It’s the difference between a child acting out understandably and a child acting out in an unintelligible way. We have to try to interpret and understand the messages in the behavior of children with autism, and that’s the only way we can improve communication with children with autism.
So I disagree with the use of the term “challenging behavior” and the use of the word “removing challenging behavior” If you want to use a specific term, why not say it’s a behavior that’s difficult for a parent or a therapist to understand or a behavior that’s difficult to interpret, and only then will there be any effort to understand and respect the individual difference of the child with autism.