Autism and Impulsivity: “Why did he do that?”

When I talk with parents of children on the Autism spectrum, one of the many concerns they voice are their child’s difficulty with impulsivity. This becomes a problem for the whole family.

If out at a restaurant, having to “keep an eye on them” to make sure they don’t hit a stranger, pour the salt on table, reach across the table knocking over someone’s glass and so on and so on.

The impulsivity (in addition to the meltdowns) is what makes these parents feel like they are always project managing. “Can we go here? Can we go there?” This becomes the question asked before venturing out o the house or into any new situation.

Then, in the house, monitoring their interaction with the dog, making sure the knives are not accessible, or just being careful not to leave the Tide pods out because they look like something to eat.

Meltdowns are one thing (See: Meltdon vs. Tantrum Blog or Meltdown’s vs. Tantrums: What Why and How to Manage ) but IMPULSIVITY is something else. Much of the time, we just don’t know what they are going to do to something or to someone.

Impulsivity is defined as the tendency to act on a whim, displaying behavior characterized by little or no forethought, reflection or consideration of the consequences.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) doesn’t mention impulsivity in the diagnostic criteria of Autism. But, impulsivity is one of the main diagnostic criteria in categorizing ADHD. Interesting!

Let’s talk about the possibilities of why many individuals on the autism spectrum struggle with this concept.

I would be negligent if I didn’t state the obvious: lots of people (autistic or not) struggle with impulsivity. So, as I discuss this, reflect on this concept in regards to your autistic child and your other children, and your spouse, and your friends, and, yes, maybe even yourself!

What keeps a neurotypical individual from acting impulsively? That is the question.

The answer is: that person has some experience or awareness as to the possible effects of their actions. They don’t stop at the “I want” thought. They proceed to the “what are all the possible effects or outcomes and am I willing to accept the worse case scenario.”

I am sure that you would agree that many of our kiddos on the spectrum, as well as those with ADHD, don’t seem to learn from their experiences or our parental counsel. When they have an experience, it seems as if the experience has gone right through them, gone forever. If that is the case then they can not reflect on the past experience when similar circumstances arise. So they keep doing the same things over and over and keep wondering why they continue to get in trouble.

They have the inability to see where THEY are the CAUSE of the EFFECT they are experiencing.

In a nutshell, they do not have the understanding of CONSEQUENCE as part of their identity.  

We can define Consequence as Something that happens (effect) as a result of something else (cause).

How do neurotypical individuals learn the concept of Consequence? They learn it by having experiences. They store those experiences and then reflect on them.

For many of our loved ones on the spectrum and/or with ADHD, their experiences go unstored or mis-stored. Either way, they have no concept or inaccurate understandings of Consequence.

That means, if they want to do something…they just do it! That is impulsivity.

Ron Davis states with simplicity, as a reflection of his genius, “If you eliminate the reason the problem exists, the problem ceases to exist.” It is that simple.

What we need to do is fill in the missing pieces, the pieces that allow for the concept of Consequence.

As Davis facilitators working with individuals from Dyslexia to Autism, that is what we do. We facilitate these gifted individuals through the process of filling the gaps that are keeping them from participating fully in life.

There is a sequence in which we do this. If your child is missing earlier foundational concepts, such as the concept of Change, then they CANNOT understand the concept of Consequence, no matter how many times you tell them, punish them or yell at them.

What can you do:

We are here to empower you. Let us help.

Until next time,

Keep it simple

Dr. Angie

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