restaurant refusal

My friend went to a restaurant recently. The waiters were quite rude and spoke to him like he was a child when he asked a question about the menu.

He finds it difficult to sit still so he was asked to sit at a table in a separate room alongside the main restaurant as he was disturbing the other dinners. They were distracted by him. 

He didn’t get what he ordered and when he complained he was told that everyone else was eating it and that he should stop looking for something different to everyone else. He couldn’t eat his meal because he is highly allergic to some of the ingredients. 

When he received the bill he refused to pay it in full because he wasn’t given what he ordered and he didn’t actually eat his meat. He tried to reason that he would have to go somewhere else now to feed himself and he couldn’t pay them for something he didn’t receive. The waiters didn’t like his behaviour and threatened to call the authorities. 

The manager told him that he was just looking for attention and was disturbing the other diners. The manager also said that he should’ve understood that he would not get what he ordered because they can’t cater for his individual eating habits. 

My friend eventually paid and left but then had no money to pay for another meal so he went home hungry. He refuses to ever go back to this restaurant. 

His parents are concerned about his restaurant refusal and the staff at the restaurant say it must be his own fault because everyone else likes their restaurant. They say that he lacks empathy. 

His therapist is working with him so that he can learn to see the restaurant staff’s point of view. His therapist is also working on his avoidant behaviour by using positive reinforcement. His therapist rewards him for nodding his head when someone asks him to pay for something he didn’t receive. His therapist also removes the reward (a form of punishment) when he refuses to nod his head in agreement through role play when the therapist plays the part of the waiter.

His family are relieved that he is making progress and hope someday soon he will be able to return to the restaurant. The behaviourist approaches are working so well that his therapist is excited that he will one day be able to return to the restaurant but not only that, he will be able to sit still and eat the meal he is given, just like everyone else. 

If you’ve  read this far and are thinking “what the hell??!” Or maybe “this is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever read” then good. Let me now ask you to read a bit further to see where I was going with this. Let’s re-read the refusal story above with a few slight word changes here and here which I’ve highlighted in bold: 

School Refusal

My friend’s child went to a school recently. The teachers were quite misinformed about autism and spoke to him like he was a baby when he asked a question about the curriculum.

He finds it difficult to sit still so he was asked to sit at a table in a separate room alongside the main classroom as he was disturbing the other students. They were distracted by him. 

He didn’t get what he needed and when he complained he was told that everyone else was doing it and that he should stop looking for something different to everyone else. He couldn’t do his work because he was highly confused by some of the instructions. 

When he received the task he refused to do it in full because he wasn’t given what he asked for and he didn’t actually understand the task. He tried to reason that he would have to go to a different classroom now to educate himself and he couldn’t do the task if he didn’t receive clear instructions.  The teachers didn’t like his behaviour and threatened to call the principal.

The principal told him that he was just looking for attention and was disturbing the other pupils . The principal also said that he should’ve understood that he would not get what he wanted because they can’t cater for his individual communicative needs. 

My friend’s child eventually left upset and confused. He refuses to ever go back to this school. 

His parents are concerned about his school refusal and the staff at the school say it must be his own fault because everyone else likes their school . They say that he lacks empathy. 

His therapist is working with him so that he can learn to see the school staff’s point of view. His therapist is also working on his avoidant behaviour by using positive reinforcement. His therapist rewards him for nodding his head when someone asks him to do something he doesn’t fully understand . His therapist also removes the reward (a form of punishment) when he refuses to nod his head in agreement through role play when the therapist plays the part of the teacher .

His family are relieved that he is making progress and hope someday soon he will be able to return to the school . The behaviourist approaches are working so well that his therapist is excited that he will one day be able to return to the school. But not only that, his therapist is fully sure that with enough therapy he will be able to sit still and complete the task he is given, just like everyone else. 

So what is this article about? It’s about changing perceptions about “school refusal”, a term that is about as helpful as the waiters in the first part of this article. Autistic children are often mistreated in schools. They are often talked down to. They are often expected to put up with sensory overload which is pretty impossible for human beings in general. They are often treated as problems or even by the best meaning people can still be treated as different, as “other”. Sometimes they are considered a distraction to the other pupils. 

When Autistic children protest this mistreatment they are often labelled as defiant. Well, good for them. They have every right to protest mistreatment. Unfortunately the mistreatment can go unnoticed because non-autistic staff are following nonsense advice created by non-autistic experts. The “behavioural issue” is placed within the child who is quite rightly exercising their right to stay safe and refusing to go to school. 

They are refusing to go to school because the school is not a good place for them. The solution is not to dump the child into therapy of course but to change the whole school environment. The solution is to presume competence in the child and realise that they know what is not safe for them. The solution is to respect the child’s communication of this and to do something about it. The solution is to involve the child in the changes that need to be made in the school. And the solution is to stop seeing Autistic children’s behaviour as the issue and to start seeing that the systematic oppression and exclusion of Autistic people from autism research, training and advisory committees is creating schools, workplaces, societies where Autistic kids and adults are mistreated, abused and excluded. 

Of course there are wonderful schools and amazing teachers out there also but we need to get realistic and see that when children are refusing school they are refusing to put themselves into places where they are subjected to trauma. We also need to get real that even those of us who are well meaning and have the very best intentions will get it wrong if we follow advice from people who are not Autistic themselves. 

Also this article highlights once more that ABA and behaviourist approaches are never the answer.

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