Autism and Bad Behavior

Bad or unacceptable behavior can be quite a problem when you are dealing with a child with autism. Those that don’t speak need constant physical cues to stop what they are doing and need constant positive reinforcement for behavior that is socially acceptable. These children cannot take their cues from others because they are unable to visually check their peers and themselves for those cues. For non-verbal children with autism, this training process is even more difficult because you can’t confirm what it is the child heard you say and whether or not they clearly understood. That is why consistency is such a big factor in how these situations are handled.

Children who are verbal can confirm that they heard you, but they still need the same level of consistency in their plan to adapt to socially acceptable behavioral norms. Although it’s controversial, reward systems can be effective with children who understand enough to know that they get a special treat or reward for behaving properly. The controversy here arises from the argument about what would happen if the reward system is taken away? The child needs to internalize his own sense of accomplishment through proper behavior, but that is as much a tough thing to teach as it is with a child who doesn’t have autism!

Additionally, the approach you choose to go with that seems to work the best for your child with autism has to be taught and used with everyone who has the least contact with your child. The slightest inconsistency throws them for a loop and they will act out with the person who becomes lax in their care. Then it’s almost like you have to start the whole training process all over again. Even siblings have to address this child the same way you do, otherwise the child with autism knows who they can behave badly with/against and when.

Moving the extrinsic rewards to the intrinsic value in children with autism is the most difficult thing to teach. With non-verbal children, you have to get past the communication barrier first before you can hope to begin to teach proper behavior. Non-verbal autistic children can become overly aggressive because they can’t argue or fight with you over your expectations for their behavior. A silent but firm response is the best way to go until you find a communication system that works with them. Removal from an activity that they find enjoyable or obsess over or a visual demonstration of the removal of a favorite toy if the toy gets thrown are a couple of examples of what you can do. Trying to explain to a non-verbal child with autism, without first knowing that they understand you, that the behavior they are exhibiting is unacceptable is a lot like rubbing a puppy’s nose in his accident while potty training him. The puppy doesn’t understand, and neither does your child.

The verbal child does understand, and so it’s a little easier to move the extrinsic reward system to the intrinsic. These children absorb verbal praise like sponge sops up water. The slow exchange of rewards for praise for a job well done gets the verbal child with autism to value their own personal achievements as its own reward.

Because the autism spectrum is so broad, it’s a case of trial and error with the above suggestions acting only as a guideline. There are no hard and fast rules for addressing unacceptable behavior in autistic children, beyond never using corporal punishment. Since many children with autism shy away from touch, the last thing you want to do is make them even more fearful of touch through spanking.

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