Is That Autism or Just His Hormones?

He sat at his desk not moving. All his other friends were getting their backpacks ready and moving towards the classroom door.

The teacher asked him to get up and go to his next class.

He continued to sit there, but now had his head down on his desk.

The teacher asked him again and now she tapped lightly on his shoulder, "Charlie come on let's go to class.  We don't want to be late."

He then started grunting, keeping his head down on the desk.

An administrator was called and much later was able to get Charlie moving (begrudgingly) and he was able to get to class.

Charlie was 13 at the time.

The administrator asked me later, "Was he doing this because of his autism or because he's just 13 and has hormones?"

I remember feeling defensive inside thinking, "Why would you ask me that question?"

Another time I was working with a student who was 14 and he kept having attention seeking behaviors (calling out in class mostly, giggling loudly, and standing up). This was the first time he was with typical peers in a regular classroom setting. One of the other peers asked if he does that because of his autism.

First of all let me say those are not the only times I have been asked that question about my son or even other teens and adults.

Does it really matter the reason why Charlie was not compliant? Yes

Should we care to explain to others if it is "just the autism" or he is hormonal and defiant?

To figure out the answer to these questions you have to ask this question:

Does he have the skill?

What I mean by that is does he have the functional skill to respond appropriately.  If he does have the skill then it may be a motivational problem or other behavioral problem.  If he doesn't have the skill then it is a skill deficit problem.

I don't like to blame the autism. I like to educate people on the differences between skill and performance deficit.


Skill deficit means the student does not know how to perform the desired behavior. A performance deficit means the student knows the skills necessary to perform the behavior, but does not consistently use them.

We all struggle with something, but unlike my Charlie most of us don't have a label that makes people judge us before they even know us.

Areas to look at for skill deficits:

  • Executive Functioning Skills (Impulse control, Emotional Control, Flexible Thinking, Working Memory, Self-Monitoring, Planning and Prioritizing, Task Initiation, and Organization)

  • Social and Emotional Regulation

  • Motor and Physical Movements

Instead of telling people Charlie won't get up and go to class because he has autism, I would tell them he is struggling with the transition time between classes because it is so loud. He is sensitive to loud noises and he struggles when he has to look at so many people in the eyes. He says it is uncomfortable, so every time he changes classes he almost has to do all those skills over again, so as the day goes on it gets harder and harder. This is why 5th and 6th periods are the hardest for him.

Another example is the 14 year-old student I spoke about earlier, he struggled with understanding the rules of a classroom. He has to practice more raising his hand and staying in his seat. We can give him lots of attention when he does those skills.

Do we all have hormonal changes? Yes

Do people with autism or other disabilities go through hormonal changes? Yes

If we just blame everything on "yes he's going through hormonal changes" then we won't be thinking of how we can support and help them through these deficits.

I always asked my school staff, "Does he/she have the skill?" after they came to me and said he was doing the behavior on purpose or were frustrated with what they were doing over and over again.

Ask yourself that question when your child is struggling? Sometimes we expect them to just do the skill. It is even harder if they had the skill, but maybe lost it again. If you ask yourself that question it will help in how you respond and help them.

If they have the skill, then encourage them to execute—could be a motivation problem. If they don't have the skill, stop and teach the skill.

God created each and every one of us uniquely. He made us perfect in His sight. We should be asking the Lord for help daily as we try and support our children. Will you help educate others too along the way?


Patty Myers,