Complexity/volume of work
Task avoidance is often due to the fear of failure. For such a student—or person in the workplace—the prospect of being unable to complete set work may be overwhelming. A refusal to even embark upon a task may be due to awareness they are unable to complete the work in the allotted time. If well intentioned staff persist in urging because they ‘know he can do it’, mounting stress is likely to lead to an outburst, which might then be interpreted simply as ‘non-compliance’.
When presenting work:
- Keep in mind the fear of failure, especially if the person is already showing signs of stress. Consider reducing the volume of work.
- Ensure that tasks presented have already been well practised. Never assume that they can ‘work out’ how to do it.
- Ensure that any variation to a task has been shown and practised before it is expected to be undertaken independently.
- In school and the workplace, it will be helpful if clear visual indicators are provided to show that following this task there will be a break, lunch time or it’s time to go home.
If tasks are too simple, or if the person is continually expected to repeat tasks using the same materials, they are likely to become bored. Boredom can lead to inappropriate behaviour and the refusal to work. Work needs to be motivating which often means tapping into the interests as well as the skills of the individual. Consider what motivates the person when offering a reward, bearing in mind that stickers are not rewarding for some children. People with Autism, of all ages, are likely to have interests which we might consider unusual. Sometimes, some detective work is needed to discover exactly what it is that most interests and motivates the person.
In the absence of a likely reason such as a major change to a routine, or an overwhelming environment, it is always wise to consider medical reasons when there is unexplained change in behaviour. Because the person is unable to tell us they have a headache or a toothache or any other complaint, there is a great risk that some onlookers might interpret those behavioural difficulties in a simplistic way, such as ‘that’s just Autism…’
Also, we must remember that even the person who has verbal skills may sometimes be unable to tell us how they feel. They may have difficulty understanding what the feeling of pain means, adding to their distress.