Joey was in preschool when I first met him. Everyone hugged Joey. It made the teachers feel good and that was okay when he was in preschool. Joey was three and as he grew to four, five, and six, everyone continued to hug Joey when they greeted him. Joey entered junior high and continued in a self-contained classroom for children with autism. He wanted to hug his teachers and they continued to hug him back. Joey didn’t discriminate between teachers and peers as he hugged them all with the same amount of gusto when he greeted them. Joey grew, like everyone else, and at seventeen, over two-hundred pounds; he continued hugging because nobody trained him any other way.
Joey was in the grocery store with his mother. He saw a pretty girl. He hugged her. She pushed her cart into him, screamed, and ran. Joey was devastated and flung himself to the concrete floor. Security came running toward Joey and his mother. I don’t need to tell you that a scenario such as this could lead to jail.
• The question is ~ can a taught behavior, such as hugging, impact a person with ASD in social judgment, relationships, and emotions in the future?
• The answer is ~ YES.
• Keep in mind ~ learned behaviors are hard to “unlearn” and they become harder over time
• A person often ~ reverts back to familiar behaviors
Hugging is often taught in preschool as a good thing. It promotes greetings, salutations, tactile stimulation, interactions, and turn taking. It also strokes the teacher’s, SLP’s, and other professional’s ego.
I suggest that hugs are great. They are warm, stimulating, teach tactile awareness, and all of those cuddly feeling we want our children with ASD to learn. However, HUGS need to be reserved for parents, grandparents, and experienced in the home. That is because they can be reinforced by the family and the child with ASD learns when and where hugs are appropriate in society.
This is BIG. It is a bigger problem with the ASD population as well as with people with Down syndrome and other mental disorders than most SLPs are aware of. Hugging behavior ignites fear in both peers and strangers. In our society of random violence, this fear is real and so is the danger. There is danger to the hugger as well as to the person being hugged.
• Here’s what you can do
1. Share this blog with your teachers, colleagues, parents, so that above scenario does not happen to their child or the ones with whom you work
2. continue to teach appropriate greetings, salutations, social awareness but make them more acceptable to society
• thumbs up
• A sign between your team and the child
• A picture for the non-verbal child to hold up
(can be a picture of him/her smiling or one of a favorite
animal that he/she selects)
Changing behavior isn’t easy but it’s worth the try no matter what age or grade level the child is in at this time. My advice: Give a bug a hug and teach the child what he/she needs to survive in society.
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