Constructing Contexts for Success in a Social Society: Undoing the Impact of the Behaviour/Mental Disorder Myth

  • Matthew BennettEmail author
  • Amanda A. Webster
  • Emma Goodall
  • Susannah Rowland


Autistic individuals often experience heightened levels of anxiety as they encounter new settings, expectations and hidden curriculum. This anxiety can be manifested in the form of challenging behaviours, particularly for children who are still learning social communication, self-management and coping skills. This has led many people to believe that behavioural difficulties are a core characteristic of autism spectrum disorder and that autistic individuals demonstrate mental or behaviour disorders. Such conceptualisations portray autistic individuals as having behaviour disorders that need to be remediated or treated, and who need to learn social skills to fit into society. The myth of autism as a behaviour/mental disorder will be examined by tracing its early history and associations with schizophrenia. This will be followed by a review of the research and current theory about the link between behaviour challenges demonstrated by autistic children and adults, autistic symptomology and the environment. The current impact of the myth for autistic individuals will be discussed and an alternative view will be offered in which social skills and problem behaviours are viewed as a product of the interaction and mismatch between the needs of individuals and the demands of the community. The chapter will conclude by offering examples of autism-friendly environments and strategies that can support the processing styles of autistic children and adults and enable them to manage the anxiety that often leads them to engage in problematic and potentially isolating behaviours.


Anxiety and behaviour Constructing autism-friendly environments Historical perspectives Schizophrenia 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew Bennett
    • 1
    Email author
  • Amanda A. Webster
    • 2
  • Emma Goodall
    • 3
  • Susannah Rowland
    • 4
  1. 1.University of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  2. 2.University of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  3. 3.University of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  4. 4.University of WollongongWollongongAustralia

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