This is from my old website (well, with slight edits for grammar), a fictional (well, only slightly fictional) story about “inappropriate” behavior. Too often, people dismiss behavior as “inappropriate” without truly understanding the reasons behind the behavior.
A Kitchen Tantrum
She’s in the kitchen, screaming at the top of her lungs.
You would think that a murder has occurred. It’s disturbing the entire family, interrupting everyone else. It’s demanding immediate attention from everyone in the house – everyone’s expected to just drop what they are doing, and come deal with this new crisis. There is no consideration for the other family members.
Once everyone rushes into the kitchen, you see the scene. She’s on top of a chair, holding a 8 inch long kitchen knife. She’s hysterical, and can’t be talked down from the chair. Yet, this has happened before, and people, after a little snicker, realize that this isn’t a major crisis after all. This is something we, as a family, can handle. Soon, we’ll be back to our own individual routines, but right now we have to handle the crisis.
Of course mom is still screaming, “Get it out! Get it out!” Dad runs behind the chair, and tries to corner the small, and otherwise cute, fuzzy critter against the cabinet. Of course this critter is smarter than that, but with the help of one of the kids, we are able to scoop him up into a small cardboard box, take him outside, and release him – away from the sight of Mom.
While Mom is still out of breath, and obviously worked up, now that the problem has been dealt with, she’ll be back to slicing up vegetables for the evening dinner within 10 minutes. The crisis is over.
First, everyone (except maybe Mom) knows that Mom and the family were never in any real danger. The small mouse, weighing only a couple of ounces, never posed a threat. This is simply one of Mom’s phobias, one of the things we’ve grown use to living with her. She is terrified of mice, rats, large bugs, and a bunch of other things that scurry or crawl. We know that, and we’re willing to come to the rescue and help her out occasionally – heck, it gives us a chance to prove our masculinity by rescuing her from the horrible spider or mouse! We get to be the hero of the day when we remove such a creature from her presence.
Now picture the same story, but this time without a mouse. You might not know why the lady is standing on the chair with the knife. Obviously this is scary, but probably even more so for the lady, who is unable to tell you (at that point in time especially) what exactly is bothering her. She’s not rational, she’s waving a knife around, she’s screaming and hollering. Most people would be terrified – not of what she is scared of (since no one knows what it is), but rather of her. Is she going to jump down off that chair and stab the entire family? Is she going to hurt herself? Should we call the police? The ambulance? Is she off her medication?
Of course no one asked this about Mom. We saw the mouse, we understood what was frightening her, even if she wasn’t really ever in any danger.
A Real Danger
Too often, however, in such a situation, when it involves an autistic person, people assume that the autistic doesn’t have a reason for their actions – that they are simply irrationally violent and about to hurt someone. Often, rather than waiting for the person to naturally calm down (assuming they have a reliable communication system while calm), or examining the situation for possible stress, people assume irrationality in people who are different than them.
Yes, maybe the autistic person is terrified about something that truly isn’t dangerous – like our mouse. We do sometimes have fears that don’t make sense to everyone else. But so does Mom.
But, maybe, the reason we started screaming when we were told about how there would be no staff person to come by tomorrow, or that we would have to prove we still qualify for staff, is because we’re terrified of not having food to eat – of starving. I ask you: Which is more scary – a cute mouse or the prospect of starvation? Yet, Mom’s behavior is, well, expected, while the autistic who screams during a plan review session is acting inappropriately, even “violently”.
Sometimes I have a hard time understanding neurotypical behavior.