Individuals with Autism can respond to certain words, known as “trigger words,” in very different ways. Sometimes the response can be aggressive, violent, or result in socially unacceptable behaviors. To better understand the concept of trigger words for individuals with Autism, and to successfully intervene in those situations, you have to look at all of the factors.
A good way to start is through the use of a functional behavior assessment. This assessment can help you gather information regarding the cause of the behaviors, the frequency of them, and the patterns or other nuances associated with the behaviors and the trigger word. Once you have this information, you might be able to understand why the word triggers the individual, which can be a major help in determining how to intervene. However, if you are unable to determine the reason why the word triggers the individual, you can still successfully provide intervention based on the information gathered during the assessment and your observations.
It is important to take into account all of the factors that are involved in each situation and each individual’s life. For example, many children who have an Autism diagnosis also suffer from anxiety, which can heighten the senses and cause anxiety and behaviors to arise when triggered by certain words or situations. The trigger word can stimulate that anxiety and lead to behaviors that you might not otherwise see.
Probably the best course of action in this situation of trigger words is to attempt to not use the word at all. However, this strategy might not be possible if the trigger word is one that is commonly used and not so easily unavoidable. Another option would be to be prepared and able to predict when the behaviors might occur. If you are aware of the trigger word, you can be on guard for when it is said, and offer strategies for calming and relaxation, which can help de-escalate the behaviors quickly, offering support to the individual right away.