From Chapter 5: Communication
In general, when a student’s behavior draws attention to itself in a negative way, it is because there is either too much of it or too little of it. These states are referred to as behavioral excess and behavioral deficit respectively. It is important to understand that behavioral excess always implies behavioral deficit. What this means practically is that the student may only have a few behaviors with which to interact with the world; for example, he may cry or scream or hit to escape from a situation he finds unpleasant. This is indicative of a behavioral excess and implies a deficit of other, more appropriate ways to communicate. If the student had other behaviors in her repertoire which were more appropriate, she would most likely use them because these behaviors are ultimately more efficient in getting her what she needs. Remember, children with autism will always use the from of communication that gets them what they want quickly and with as little effort as possible.
An example is this: one could use a screwdriver to open a can. However, it would be more efficient to use a can opener. If a person had knowledge of the efficiency of using a can opener to open a can as opposed to the labor intensive use of a screwdriver to open the can, presumably, the person would choose the can opener.
What the student with autism must be taught is the connection between the newly taught and more efficient behavior and getting what he needs. This implies a need for you to teach replacement behaviors that serve the same function as the undesirable behaviors and which are as efficient in getting the student what she wants. So, before a replacement behavior can be taught, one must be clear on the function of the behavior.
Much of the research on communication issues in children with autism shows that as proficiency in communication increases, rates of undesirable behaviors decrease. If we view undesirable behaviors as communicative, then the task is to figure out what the behavior is meant to communicate and to teach the student a more appropriate behavior to communicate that need.
A child with autism will adapt and use a communication system if it works to quickly get them what they need. If it is labor intensive and does not result in immediate reinforcement it is likely the system will become dormant and not be used. The child must see that others in the environment understand and use the system of communication system if she is to use it efficiently in real social communication