are Autism behaviors annoying?

Are Autism behaviors annoying
An interesting conversation arose between me and a family member about Autism. I’m sure whether you are Autistic or have a child with Autism, you’ve had some interesting conversations yourself. This exchange began with me talking about my son, Jeremiah who is four-years-old, has Autism, and is nonverbal. I said, ”I had a dream that Jeremiah could write letters and say them.” Joan* responded, “I pray that every day, that he’d be able to do those things and more.” I said, “I would love for him to be able to communicate and not be irritated.” To which she added, “…and annoying.”

I interrupt this conversation to talk about this first point, “…annoying.”

(More was discussed beyond this, but I will save that for another post.) So, annoying, yes certain aspects of Autism are annoying, especially when the child can’t communicate. But heck, aren’t we all annoying at some point to everyone around us? Doesn’t something bother you about each person you know? Okay, probably not, but we each have our unique personalities and can, quite frankly, be annoying. I’m not, but hey, you need to work on your issues. 😉

Now, Joan wasn’t saying Jeremiah’s annoying in a mean way, she loves him, but she knows that when I’ve had it up to my eyebrows with everything in my life, including moments with Autism, she will watch the kids (she runs an in-home daycare) a little extra for me. She knows that some things Jeremiah does can bother others. He bothers her too, and she has a LONG fuse. But, I’d say 98% – 99% of Jeremiah’s “annoying” behaviors are the result of him not being able to communicate, coupled with his sensory needs.

Jeremiah’s a REALLY good kid other than he exhibits what we see as negative behaviors when he can’t communicate and when his sensory needs over or underwhelm him.

For example, when Jeremiah doesn’t have his PECS* card for “food” available, he opens the dishwasher to climb on the counter to get his snack. He doesn’t open anything else, he doesn’t make a mess, he simply gets out the goldfish, and is usually found out before he opens the package. Getting him off the counter is “annoying” to me because I have to lift him off the counter, and I have back problems, so it hurts, and doing this consistently on “bad” days, coupled with other behaviors, is hard. But, we can see that he’s climbing on the counter because he’s hungry (always) and wants to eat, but wasn’t able to communicate his need in a timely manner, if at all.
there is a purpose behind the Autistic persons behaviors

Another example would be when he screams (happy screams) at THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS when he’s inside the house. Can you say, “ANNOYING!!!?” Yeah, it is, to the extreme. Why is he screaming? We don’t know. I would bet it has something to do with sensory issues and communication, depending on the moment. Problem is, he doesn’t stop if you ask, he may for a moment, but he’ll do it again. So, he’s trying to communicate excitement, sharing that he likes something that’s going on, or a way he feels, he may like the way it tickles his throat, it may be his only way to say, “I’M RIGHT HERE PEOPLE, HEAR ME ROAR!!!” He’s a boy after all. 🙂

Those things that annoy some of us are our child’s way of saying something: they’re get excited when the sun is shining, they want to play at the playground you just passed by, flourescent lights irritate them, they hear humming in their ears, they’re saying “hi” (Jeremiah does this by hitting – we’re always teaching him to be gentle, but we need to acknowledge that he’s saying “hi”), and so much more.

Really so much of what I want for Jeremiah is based on two key things I’ve talked about here, I want him to be able to communicate and I want to help him with his sensory needs, or for him to know what to do for himself. And in the end, I want Jeremiah to be happy. That’s my desire for him.

In the beginning of my Autism trek, I was surrounded by people with more of a “poor us” mentality, parents want to “cure” their child, people who wanted to know how we could “fix” Jeremiah, it wasn’t so focused on the positive attributes of Autism.

I’ll be discussing more of that mentality next week, because the conversation I had with Joan moved into the area of “fixing” or “getting rid” of Autism.


*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

*PECS stands for Picture Communication Exchange System which uses photos as a way to communication.

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the comfort priority (Autism)

When speech and developmental therapists began working with our son in our home, they recommended creating a safe place (a place of comfort, a place to getcuddle swing away) in our home for Jeremiah. They recommended putting up a tent in his room, or a cuddle swing (pictured at right). Before we purchased anything, we realized his go-to spot was his bed. It was a place he liked to go and hang out.

His bed is a converted crib, so it has three slated sides and is open in the front. When Jeremiah used to throw longer tantrums (I couldn’t hold him because he was hitting, kicking, and holding him didn’t calm him, even after a few minutes) I  would calmly carry him to his room and place him in his bed (I left his door open), and he would calm down in less than five minutes. He was able to calm down in this space because it had already become a safe place for him.

Your child’s safe place needs to be comfortable. It’s important to recognize that  comfort for your child may be different than what it is for you. Sensory issues usually coincide with Autism, so this comfort is paramount.

When creating a comfortable space for your child, consider the following:

  • Noise level – Does your child like silence best, or a continuous quiet noise? Would she like quiet music playing in the background?
  • Textures – Does he like several blankets, or just one? What is the fabric like on the hammock, chair, or bed that is used as a “comfort space” or for sleeping?
  • Temperature – Consider what temperature your child feels best in. Warmer or cooler?
  • Lighting – A natural light or soft light is preferred to harsh bright lighting.

comfort priority

This idea of comfort takes itself into many scenarios with our kids. Because of those sensory needs, comfort is always to be considered. If it isn’t, your child may display negative behaviors or elope. Children who have Autism have a tendency to elope (run away, wander), it’s actually very common.

Sometimes when a child elopes, it’s because they’re uncomfortable. Jeremiah has escaped from his Grandma’s daycare a few times. Seriously scared the #@$$ out of me! After putting security measures in place (well not much “security,” but at least a plan), I had to look at why he wanted to leave the house. The conclusion I came to was, he wasn’t comfortable, and sometimes when our Autistic kids aren’t comfortable, they aren’t safe. They elope, as in this instance, they harm themselves, or they can display those negative behaviors, and we want to avoid these.

Because my son is nonverbal, I wasn’t able to ask him why he wandered off, and even if I could, I’m not sure he would know the exact reason why. So, we have to investigate (which we have become very adept at) and take in what we know about the environment. Here are some things that could have been bothering him: it’s really warm in her house, sensory issues plague him and Grandma doesn’t know how to deal with it, it can be loud with all the kids running around. I have a feeling one, or all of these played into his desire to leave.

As mentioned in the daycare scenario, comfort plays an important role when outside the home. Another example of this was when he eloped from my parents house. It was a holiday, we were all sitting around the table after a meal, and I asked where Jeremiah was. He had walked out the door to the garage, out the open garage door and off down the open field surrounding the back of their house (no fence!). I would imagine that because he was out of his normal environment, he didn’t fell comfortable. Poor guy!

He was only two or three at the time, but later during that same visit with them, he was able to show us where he did feel comfortable. He grabbed his dad’s hand and took him to our car. Justin lifted him into his car seat and that’s where he was content to hang out for quite a while.

If we want our child to be safe and at peace, part of the puzzle (it’s complex, I know) is to keep them comfortable. This includes meeting sensory needs, keeping routines, etc., but it also means having a place they can go where they aren’t overwhelmed. They need this at home and when we’re on the go.

Think of what your child may need to help them in this area. As I was writing this post, I saw an awesome play-set/bed for a kids room on Facebook. I thought it would be awesome for Jeremiah’s room, but it was too big. When I showed it to Justin, he pointed out the cuddle swing/hammock and said he wanted to put it in Jeremiah’s room. First I had to remind him that I’d shown him one of those a couple years ago and he had no interest (that’s just my job as his wife right?). Then someone commented on this awesome play-set saying that we couldplay set for bedroom incorporate just the sections that Jeremiah would benefit from, meaning it wouldn’t have to take up ALL the floor space in his room. We are still working out how to do this while in the middle of a house remodel/addition, Autism, and life, but the point is always to try to work it out. If you feel like something doesn’t fit your life, your space, mold it so it does. Nothing is out of the question, that’s why Jeremiah has a swing and a mini trampoline in his room! Just like anyone else, when Jeremiah’s needs are met, he’s more content, and the family as a whole can function better, it’s more peaceful environment for all of us.

*After learning more about Autism, I would say children also wander because they are in search of something (water, or something they like to do). Here is a post about wandering and the risk of drowning: 4 reasons why you should teach your Autistic child to swim.

*You can purchase the cuddle swing pictured above here.
*The bed can be found here, but I am not sure how to purchase it. If you love it, you just might have to build it. 🙂

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