Friday 27 November 2020

Is Charlie racist and rude? Does he need excluding for his behaviour? Or is Charlie struggling in a neurotypical world where he is mis-understood?

I wrote this blog a couple of years ago In many ways this could be Charlie about whom I’m talking. It wasn’t, I hadn’t met him, but I meet hundreds of Charlies a year, and I have done since 1986. Charlie is autistic and a part of him being autistic is that our neurotypical world does not suit him. He appears just like his peers: bright, chatty and able but Charlie is actually from a different culture. In the autistic world, the typical rules of politeness or saying ‘how it is’ do not apply. As part of being a neurotypical adult working with autistic teenagers it is our duty to understand this and to deal with it. 1. Say it as it is: the bluntness of autism If a 14-year-old teenage boy told me I was fat and ugly I might be offended if he was neur0- typical. If he was autistic, I would thank him for pointing it out and realise that he was just telling me the truth. This descriptive bluntness may also apply to people’s obvious ethnic backgrounds or other neurotypical ‘sensitive’ topics. But that's what it is; it's a description, it is not an insult. So, if an autistic teenager calls you a ‘black idiot’ then you could be offended perhaps by the ‘idiot’ but not by the black descriptor, if you are of Afro-Caribbean origin. He doesn’t mean anything derogatory. 2. The wanting to fit in Other autistic teenagers will want to be seen to fit in so may use phrases or sayings that they have heard of the children use. These may be ‘cool’ children, who autistic teenagers would like to emulate . They may want to impress these cool children or indeed other children . However, it does mean they will be using phrases or words they don't necessarily understand and certainly don't understand the full implication of using. Therefore, the consequences of this sort of language used in school should not be the same as for neurotypical children, it is part of reasonable adjustment. A child like Charlie responds well to discussion about such issues . He does not want to offend or to be rude. He does want to fit in. 3. Neural response By the time a neurotypical child is a teenager, we expect them to have control over their emotions and their emotional outbursts in school. However, non neurotypical children cannot be expected to have this same control. It is unrealistic. Professionals must understand the difference between cognitive control and neural response. Neural response is automatic, so children and young people are likely to do things in the heat of the moment without actually being in control of what they do. It’s a typical stress response e.g. the fight as part of fight, flight or freeze. Trauma informed schools are extremely good at understanding the neural response of an autistic child which may lead to seemingly undesirable behaviour. A neural response is the key difficulty of a child with demand avoidance and MUST be seen as an anxiety or panic attack. As with anxiety or panic attacks, the child needs supporting not punishing. 4. Executive function We must know more about executive function as professionals working with ND children and teenagers . When we do, we realise that they may have no filter, so this will be another reason to ‘say what you see’ without the typical ability to think twice before you say anything. This is an issue with the prefrontal cortex so shouldn't be punishable but can be guided when there is a rapport and trust between professional and child. I could go on but I'm short of time this morning however it is imperative that Charlie’s behaviour is understood. His behaviour is communication; he's communicating to us that he's having a hard time. Professionals must, as part of reasonable adjustment find a way of dealing with this and not seeing his responses as illegal, unlawful or punishable. I actually find Charlie to be a completely delightful young man!