This page is designed to answer the following questions:
- 2.1. Outline how behaviour can be interpreted as a form of expression. (Level 2 Certificate in Understanding Autism, Supporting positive behaviour in individuals with autism)
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Behaviour can be understood as a form of expression, especially in contexts where verbal communication may be limited or less effective, such as with individuals on the autism spectrum.
Behaviours, whether typical or those considered challenging, often serve as a means through which individuals communicate their needs, emotions, and responses to their environment. Recognising and interpreting these behaviours as forms of expression is crucial in understanding and supporting individuals effectively.
For instance, a person who finds it difficult to articulate discomfort or distress might exhibit behaviours such as withdrawal, aggression, or self-stimulatory actions (commonly known as stimming) to cope with overwhelming sensory inputs or to express unmet needs. In this light, what might initially appear as challenging or disruptive behaviour can be seen as a communicative act, signalling an attempt to convey a message or fulfill a need that the individual cannot express through words alone.
Similarly, repetitive behaviours or insistence on sameness, often observed in individuals with autism, can be interpreted as expressions of seeking security and predictability in their environment. Such behaviours might indicate the individual’s need for structure and routine to navigate the complexities of their sensory and social worlds. Recognising this allows caregivers and support workers to understand the underlying reasons for these behaviours and to respond in ways that address the root causes, rather than merely reacting to the behaviour itself.
Interpreting behaviour as a form of expression also involves acknowledging the unique ways in which individuals perceive and interact with their surroundings. Sensory sensitivities, for example, can lead to behaviours that are attempts to manage or escape from sensory overload. A child covering their ears or avoiding certain textures may be expressing discomfort or distress in response to sensory experiences that are overwhelming or unpleasant for them.
Furthermore, positive behaviours and interactions also serve as important expressions of engagement, interest, and pleasure. An individual’s choice to share an interest, initiate interaction, or participate in an activity can be seen as communicative acts expressing their preferences, desires, and the joy they find in certain engagements.
Interpreting behaviour as a form of expression underscores the importance of adopting a person-centred approach, where attempts are made to understand the individual’s perspective and the meanings behind their behaviours. This perspective encourages empathetic and responsive support strategies that respect the individual’s needs and preferences, ultimately fostering a supportive environment that enhances understanding and connection.