The Problem with Taking Behaviors at Face Value

One of the misunderstood aspects of autism is that for some individuals, outward behaviors do not match inward intentions or thoughts. Decades ago, I learned from leaders in the field of ASD treatment how profoundly motor planning and praxis (everything from having an idea, planning motor movements, sequencing those movements, executing and then adjusting as necessary)—all occurring within seconds—can be impacted in autism.  Exposure to such knowledge allowed an appreciation for the fact that we must be very careful in how we interpret behaviors in autistic individuals, especially for those who have limited spoken language.  As I have mentioned before, individuals writing about their autism have opened the windows wide open for the world to better understand that there can be a severe disconnect between what the mind thinks and what the body does.  The data coming in from the true experts suggest that we simply cannot take behaviors at face value and must not over-interpret motor behaviors in autistic individuals.

In the words of Ido Kedar:

If you are working with experts like those from my early life, they limit your child in low expectations. They tell you that being impaired in body is being impaired in mind.

Here are some suggestions for professionals and parents:

  1. Assume competency, do not automatically interpret behaviors such as refusals, wandering, aggressive acts, inattention, non-compliance, etc. with a neurotypical lens.
  2. Consider the motor planning support/accommodations a person needs to communicate and explain what he or she is thinking, rather than taking the behavior at face value.
  3. Seek out support and training from experts with a background in cross-brain, hence, cross- disciplinary treatment, such as the non-profit Profectum Foundation, or ICDL.


0 0 votes
Blog Post Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I tend to work with high functioning, verbal kids on the spectrum, but even there, the lack of understanding of social signals means the same thing. As an example, I had one teenager who leaned back in his chair in the middle of a math lesson and yawned an enormous, loud yawn. With a neurotypical kid, I’d assume he or she knew this would imply I was boring and respond accordingly. But with these kiddos, we had to have a whole discussion about it and a lesson about how to yawn subtly and politely. They were, true to their ASD, shocked that sometimes a yawn is not just a yawn and that people might read a message into it.