People with special needs can often exhibit challenging behaviours due to a variety of stressors. It is important for someone working in this environment to be prepared to see some behaviours, to identify triggers so that they can be avoided, and to develop strategies to help the participants cope when difficulties arise.
One behaviour that we see often is task refusal. The student will not want to participate in an activity for a variety of reasons. This is fine and we can offer them the opportunity to participate later. This program is not meant to make anybody feel uncomfortable. If they choose to be an observer, that is their right. Usually by the second workshop, they show more interest as they develop trust and are intrigued by the positive and excited reactions of their peers. We continue to try different ways of engaging with them while at the same time respecting their needs in that moment.
Sensory over- or under-stimulation can be a huge source of stress for people with special needs, and can definitely contribute to behaviour. There are so many sensory inputs in music (the sounds, the vibrations of the instruments), and they can be both calming or stimulating. Thinking about that sensory component is so important because we can use that to tailor the sensory environment. When we see participants exhibiting sensory-seeking or sensory-defensive behaviours, it can be a cue for us to insert something into the workshop.
People with autism can have a lot of idiosyncratic uses of language, and one that we see a lot is scripting. This is when someone basically repeats a script that they’ve heard somewhere, perhaps from a movie, book or a TV show. The participant is not scripting to communicate with you but just for their own enjoyment, so it’s perfectly fine to carry on.