“For no reason”

(Coffee-spew warning)

“I don’t know; he just started biting the other kid for no reason. But you know, children-with-autism just do those things.”

“We were just going over the lesson when alla-sudden she just BLEW UP for no reason, and started cussing and calling me an F-ing B and threw her folder papers all over and stormed out of the room!”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with this kid. He’ll just pitch an absolute FIT. We tried to restrain him but then he starting kicking the para and screaming and banging his head on the floor. Honestly, he does. It’s awful, believe me. He’s just uncontrollable — if you want, we can set him off and you’ll see what I mean!”

These are re-created quotes, not verbatim from documentation. But I’m sure you get the idea. (The behavior specialist was naturally horrified that a teacher would want to trigger a melt-down in a student. That kind of “proof” was certainly not necessary. Interventions were needed all around, especially in the staff’s classroom management methods, with regards to helping the students rather than “controlling” them.)

There are a variety of phrases that drive me abso-bloomin-lutely NUTZ, and “for no reason” is one of them. No one ever does something for no reason.

Often someone is not consciously aware of why they’re doing something. We frequently do something for a number of reasons, to get things we need, and to avoid things that stress us. Sometimes the way we react or deal with events makes things worse for ourselves and others. The whole reason the field of counselling exists is because many people — regardless of diagnosis, disability, or lack thereof — need to untangle how things have gone badly in the past, and learn better ways of dealing with issues and stresses in their lives.

When someone describes another person as doing something “for no reason,” what they are really saying are:

“I don’t know why he did that.”

“I didn’t notice the warning signs she was giving off that would have indicated she was getting really wound up.”

“Children-with-autism or That Kind do strange things that normal people never do, just because they’re not like real people, so there’s no point in trying to understand them.”

Each one of these translations illustrates a different layer of misunderstanding that can add to the misimpression that someone has a melt-down or a blow-up “for no reason”. I call these Incomprehension, Unawareness, and Cluelessness, respectively. They’re all forms of ignorance, but they usually stem from unexamined foolishness, rather than outright stupidity or cruelty. (Most of the time; sadly there are exceptions. Somehow in these cases the cause of problems is never “staff making bad choices” or “staff not following IEP or BIP”. Too often the problem is “bad reaction to initial reaction” rather than something related to identifying and solving actual cause of problem. But it’s much easier to react to the reaction than to identify the situations and triggers. Funny how in these bad situations the successes are owned by teachers and the failures are owned by students … )

It sometimes takes a trained behavioral observer, working with the team of people who are around the child/student (the teachers, aides and paras, parents and other caregivers, doctors and therapists) to observe, discuss, and come up with testable ideas for why the problem is happening, and different ways that it can be handled and prevented. People need to work together to help the child/student learn how to identify problem situations, and better ways of dealing with whatever is stressing them.

Most of all, it takes communication, awareness, and compassion. We have to not only figure out what’s going on, but also learn to identify the signs or non-verbal signals that stressed people give, so we can interrupt the developing storm, rather than just reacting after the melt-down, or worse, aggravating the situation.

Most importantly, we have to realise that we’re all people. Although we each have different tolerances and different reactions to situations, once we understand each other better, the problems and the reactions are much easier to understand and relate to. Under different circumstances, any of us could have reacted in much the same way. Some of us even remember having literally “been there, done that”. Such memories don’t let us condone the blow-ups or melt-downs, but neither do they let us condone the ignorant statements that others make. Their incomprehension, unawareness, and cluelessness requires being addressed by education.

After all, That Kind of person doesn’t just go saying ignorant things like that for no reason.

1 Comment

  1. elizabeth said,

    8 October 2007 at 7:25

    I really enjoyed this reminder to re-examine assumptions. Often when teaching students would act in an inexplicable way; I knew that there was an explaination, but simply didn’t have the context to understand it. However, the education system has a punitive aspect in much the same way bad spelling will reduce a grade even if there is no percentage of marks to be listed for spelling, non-conformist behaviour will be penalized without relationship to anything else.

    For example, I had a student who was repeating a civics course for the 4th time because the teacher I was replacing had a policy that if you are late, you get zero for the day regardless of work. I talked to the student; he didn’t seem to want attention, he didn’t know why he was late, he tried very hard not to be late but he was consistantly late. We agreed he use the back door and put his seat near there for minimal disruption. His grade was B+ (On the fourth time, he obviously knew the material) by the time I left. However, I hoped he wouldn’t be failed for the remainder of the year because of said teacher and stuck policy.

    At the end of the day, I didn’t know the reason, the student didn’t know the reason. Was the reason that important?

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