“Problem Behavior” is an entirely arbitrary made-up thing that allows abled people to force disabled people into norms that are also completely arbitrary and made-up.
When labeling something a “problem behavior” – whose problem are we talking about? That really is the essence of the issue I am taking with the term. People who use the term “problem behavior” suggest through its way of use two things:
1. That the behavior in itself is generally a problem. For everybody. All the time. Everywhere.
2. That the person engaging in the behavior is the one causing the problem because they are the one causing the behavior.
Let us get one thing straight right away: People call it problem behavior because people have a problem with it. Not because it actually represents a problem.
The use of the term is based on the belief that disabled people are different and lesser than abled people. That abled peoples ways are the correct ways and thus abled people get to decide what is and isn’t correct for disabled people.
The other way around disabled people aren’t allowed to label abled peoples behaviors problematic and attempt to correct them.
That is ableism.
What is deemed “Problem Behavior” in disabled people is actually just natural behavior. Some of it is behavior abled people also show. Some of it is behavior specific to disabled people. Neither is unnatural. Neither is wrong or sick. However giving it a professional label turns it into a pathology and justifies treating it to stop it.
Many behaviors that are seen as totally acceptable when engaged in by abled people are considered “problem behavior” when engaged in by disabled people.
Take autistic stimming. It’s considered socially acceptable for an allistic person to bite their nails, tap their foot, and twirl their hair. It’s considered “problem behavior” for an autistic person to flap their hands or jump on the spot.
Take objection. It’s considered socially acceptable for an allistic person to say “No.” to pretty much anything. It’s considered “problem behavior” for an autistic person to refuse eye contact, a handshake, or comply with ridiculous tasks of for example ABA therapy.
It’s not only behavior that actually is different from abled people that’s labeled “problem behavior”. Behaviors that can also be observed in abled people are also labeled “problem behavior” in disabled people. The same behavior doesn’t get labeled “problem behavior” in abled people though.
This is called “othering”. Disabled people are seen as different even when they aren’t. This is used to justify treating them differently than abled people.
In fact it’s often the abled person determining something “problem behavior” that creates the problem in the first place.
Instead of just being okay with the disabled persons way of doing things, the abled person decides to find a behavior problematic. That’s how you create a problem where there is none.
“Problem Behavior” is often caused by the very people complaining about it.
Stimming in autistic people for example is often triggered as a reaction to overwhelming social interaction, or an environment that disregards sensory needs. Both things are often caused by the allistic people around the autistic person. Or the environment created by the allistic people. Not the autistic person themselves.
Once a behavior has been declared “problem behavior” it becomes socially acceptable to want and attempt to correct that behavior.
If there’s a problem, our society believes it must be solved. And since the disabled person is seen as lesser and as causing the problem society believes it doesn’t matter, if the solution harms them. Because it’s socially accepted that if you aren’t a part of the solution you’re a part of the problem. So you will be treated as the problem.
Autistic people are being shocked with portable electroshock devices hundreds of times a day at Judge Rotenberg Center for so called “problem behaviors”. A practice illegal to use against prisoners. A practice illegal to use against animals.
Stimming of any kind? Shock. Stand up to use the bathroom without asking first? Shock. Trying to get away from the pain the electric shock causes? Shock. Speaking up against another student being tortured? Shock.
Autistic people are being treated inhumanely for so called “problem behavior” during ABA therapy. Any non-compliance is deemed “problem behavior”. Children aren’t allowed to object. They aren’t allowed to refuse. They aren’t allowed to say no.
Only when they comply with the tasks and requests put in front of them will they find relief from the constant pushing of the ABA teacher. They are dehumanized, their free will is taken from them, and they are being trained like pets.
More subtle forms of dehumanization on the grounds of “problem behavior” happen to disabled people every day. The most common might be to not be taken seriously. The second a disabled person displays “problem behavior” it seems like a switch flipped in the abled people around them.
There is a general lack of respect. And only because certain behaviors have once been declared problematic. Not because there is an actual reason for why the disabled person should be less respected or taken less seriously than an abled person.
“Problem behavior” is often thought to mean a disabled person is less intelligent. Just because an autistic person hops up and down while reading a book doesn’t mean they are reading that book in any way less effectively than the allistic person who is sitting still while reading.
Non-autistic people seem to generally expect autistic people to not engage in their “problem behaviors” when out in public. I wrote about passing before HERE.
Because somebody who has never met me decided that some of my ways to act are “problem behaviors” I now have to hide essential parts of myself every single day of my life. How dare you stranger?
No. Because the term is based on the premise that it is the person exhibiting the behavior who causes the behavior aka “the problem”.
I might agree with self-harming behavior being labeled “a problem”. I might agree with labeling dangerous behaviors like eloping as “a problem”. But they are being caused by things. It’s the cause for the behaviors that needs addressing – don’t blame the behaviors themselves and most certainly don’t blame the disabled person! That’s why the term just needs to go.
“Problem Behavior” is used to other and dehumanize disabled people. It is ableist and should not be used. Ever.