Think about it, if Behavior Communicates and you’re getting aggressive behavior from a student who is verbal, that means he/she is trying to communicate something they don’t have the words for. You and I have verbal skills yet how often do we have to clarify or even apologize for something that was not said properly? Exactly. So it’s not a stretch to imagine that our verbal students with autism who have issues with communication may not have the words they need to communicate what they want to when they want to.
I was called in to do some consulting for a middle school student who was verbal yet pinching 80 times a day. The teacher had all the right physical and visual supports set up, the staff was well trained in strategies that work well for students with ASD, yet the problem was still happening. I wasn’t optimistic about being able to solve this problem because I knew how talented this particular staff was. I just couldn’t imagine that I could suggest something that they had not already tried. I was assuming that there must be a biological/medical underlying issue that had not been addressed.
I went in to observe and noticed that at the moment this student started to pinch, the staff said, “Use your words”. Perfect! Yet the pinching continued. It suddenly dawned on me that the statement “Use your words” was not enough! Even though this student could talk and express herself, she did not have the words to tell staff what she needed at those moments she was pinching! So…. I grabbed a small white board and told the staff to write down three requests using their best guess about what this student wanted at the moment of the pinch. I instructed them to say “Nice hands, use your words” and then present the three options to the student and say “Which one?”. Some of the options that the staff offered were, “I need a break”, “I need help, this is too hard”, “When can I do something I like?” The pinching went from 80 pinches a day to zero. Unbelievable!
Just remember…even if your students can talk, it doesn’t mean that they can communicate! Behavior Communicates!