Utilization Behavior

I am glad that I learned about UTILIZATION BEHAVIOR when Robert was already 17.  For a few previous years I suspected that Robert’s behavior was controlled by his environment. I attributed this enslavement by the environment to Robert’s  severe language deficits.

Language gives flexibility.  Language allows for modification.  Language provides directions. Language is  a tool . Language is a shield.   But Robert didn’t have language.  Because of that,  Robert had to deduce all the relevant information from his surroundings.

When the bicycle was in the garage Robert ignored it.  But when the same bicycle was left in a driveway Robert “read” the message from the environment and act upon it.  He got on a bike, crossed the street, and rode alone to the church’s parking lot, the place where his father had taught him to ride a two wheeler.  He did it “only” twice as only twice the bike was left in the driveway by the member of the family.  Each time his sister, Amanda, took another bike and rushed after him.  Robert followed Amanda home without any reluctance.  Why should he resist?  He had already fulfilled the command expressed to him loudly and clearly by the placement of the bike in the driveway.

Robert didn’t feel urge to light matches when he saw them on a shelf, although he could reach and get them.  But when someone left matches  next to a candle he had to lighten it.   He “utilized” the matches and the candle the way they should be used. Still,  the candle was near the curtains, the curtains near the bookshelf.  Although  the fire was mostly extinguished  before firemen arrived a couple minutes later  the smoke and the uneasy feelings lingered longer.

It became obvious to me that  the environment was controlling Robert’s behavior.  The question is, why didn’t I become aware of that fact  before those dramatic events took place?

Well, I didn’t feel the need to analyze everyday, repetitive events.  If they struck me as unusual I found it sufficient to rely on a few artificial explanations based on stereotypes about autism .  Moreover, Robert had complex relations with his environment.  He was a guardian of his surroundings.  He had to maintain it by bringing it to the previous balance when something was disturbed. For instance, empty space on a shelf over the coffee maker was calling on Robert to give it back the missing phone.  Objects out of place were requesting that Robert puts them back in the right drawers, closets, cabinets,or shelves. Those behaviors could be considered just “tiding up” or… signs of obsessive compulsive disorder.  Only after incidents with a bike and matches I view them as the examples of Robert serving his environment.

If I knew more about utilization behavior when Robert was younger I would have considered it a  result of the frontal lobe damage and felt unable to alleviate it.

Luckily, I didn’t know.  So Robert and I spent  a lot of time squeezing new words between Robert and objects that surrounded him.  Those little words “up, under, first, later, if, then” and many other did what words supposed to do.  They imposed a new structure with passable roads, tunnels, and bridges over Robert’s environment.  They showed that he could move between any two objects, modify them, or even … ignore them.  Those little words  considerably lessened the pressure coming from the environment and ( to some degree) liberated Robert.

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