How to Manage Behavior in Children With Autism

Out of the norm behaviors come with the territory of autism, but how can a parent manage them? First, it is necessary to understand the behavior; what causes it, what prompts it to continue, and how to safely decrease its occurrence if not eliminate it altogether. You don’t need a degree in psychology to navigate this, because it’s really just common sense. A child development or autism therapy specialist may be able to assist you, if you’re unsure how or where to begin.

In the meantime, the majority of behaviors in a child with autism usually occur with reason. Their are different approaches a parent can take to help their autistic child in this department. They are:

  1. Ignoring: obvious, of course, is this technique because if your average child was throwing a tantrum you know enough to ignore the behavior so they stop. It works with children with autism too, who may be exhibiting an unwanted behavior for attention seeking, shock, or to get something they want. If the child is in a safe place and away from anything that can cause them harm, then this technique when used consistently, will help eliminate a negative behavior.
  2. Positive reinforcement: when your child is having a good day or a good moment, even, lots of praise reinforces in even a non-verbal child that what they are doing appeals to mom and/or dad and they should continue to act that way. Small treats or special outings/ events for accomplishing good behavior over a longer period of time are also examples of positive reinforcement.
  3. Environment: This one is not so obvious to many parents, but a child’s environment does effect the way they behave. If you set up the surroundings such that the child is able to control what they do or don’t do, rather than having to constantly be in control of the child and stop them from doing what you don’t want them to do, that teaches them that they can have some control, but you are in charge. E.g., placing the furniture in the room so as to break up the space and keep the child from running in circles or using everything as a trampoline or jumping off platform ensures that these behaviors stop. Used in conjunction with redirection to a more appropriate area, like outside play equipment, definitely helps.
  4. Warnings, timers, and transitions: warnings can be used with any child that has autism. It is simply vocalizing what you plan to do next and how long the wait is before you plan to do it. It creates and expectation for them that they will follow your plan and that they get to participate in what you’re planning. Timers and transitions are more often used with higher functioning children to get them to understand limits and periods of moving on to the next thing, or transitioning, to the next activity.
  5. Redirection: This is a big one. Bad behaviors turned good is the name of the game. You take away the power and focus of the unpleasant behavior by redirecting the child to something more positive. They want to punch because they’re mad? Give them a bop-it bag toy or some play-doh at the table and let them diffuse in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone. They want to climb and jump on the furniture? Take them outside to run off the energy and climb the playground equipment in the backyard. Simple but conscientious substitutions make all the difference.

Designing a behavior modification plan with a special needs team will help. When everyone’s on board, the behaviors can begin to decrease or disappear entirely.