autism chicago

Autism: Recognizing & Managing Challenging Behaviors

Did you know that a big part of your child’s behavior, positive or challenging, is a reaction to something that is happening in their immediate environment?


Sometimes we inadvertently reinforce challenging behaviors but knowing the ABCs can help prevent inadvertent reinforcement. By recognizing the ABCs of behavior, you may be able to help prevent and better de-escalate challenging behaviors with your child. 

 A) Antecedent- This is what happens just before the behavior to provoke it.  

B)  Behavior-This is what you can see your child doing. 

C) Consequence-This is how you react the behavior.  The consequence will determine whether or not that behavior will reoccur. 

When thinking about how to intervene your child’s behavior, it is important to look at why the behavior is occurring, also known as identifying thefunction.  This is much more important than what the behavior looks like.  By recognizing which function the challenging behavior serves, you can begin to understand how to intervene.  The four main functions of behavior are:

 

Sensory - These behaviors are occurring because they feel good.  Stereotypy, or self-stimulatory behavior, is a common sensory behavior that children with autism often engage in. 

 

Escape - These are behaviors occur when your child wants to get out of doing something they don’t want to do.  This is often the root cause of difficulty with transitions, with which many children with autism have difficulty.

 

Attention - These behaviors occur to gain attention from somebody.  Attention-based behaviors can be easily inadvertently reinforced, so it is important to remember that negative attention is still attention!

 

Tangible - These are behaviors that your child engages in when they are told they can’t have something they want or if something they like is taken from them. By identifying common things that provoke behavior, we can arrange the environment to prevent behaviors in the first place.  By knowing why your child is engaging in a challenging behavior, you can begin to understand how to respond to your child. 

 

General Preventative Strategies

  • Give your child choices throughout the day.  This gives them a sense of control in their environment.  You can give them a “choice” when there may not actually be one.  An example of this is, “Which shoe do you want to put on first?” or “Do you want to go potty in 2 minutes or 4 minutes?”

  • If you would like for your child to do something, present it as a choice via instruction.  It is important that instructions are followed through. An example of this is, “Are you ready to put on your shoes?” vs. “It’s time to put your shoes on.” 

  • Prepare your child for transitions.  Instead of abruptly telling them that it is time to transition away from a preferred task, give them a visual or verbal countdown

  • Reward the positives!  Point out when you see your child making good choices.  Throw a party if they engage in a difficult and desirable behavior.  Some children with autism may not be motivated by social praise.  If this is the case, allow your child time with a favorite toy or sensory input (tickles, hugs, squeezes etc.)

  • Encourage flexibility!  Many children with autism can be rigid, so encouraging your child to play with different toys, try different foods, and pointing out when unexpected changes occur, can help prevent challenging behavior related to rigidity

  • Make sure your child has meaningful breaks throughout the day to engage in preferred activities

  • Teach appropriate behaviors when your child is calm and not engaging in challenging behavior 

 

General Consequence Strategies

 

 Sensory

  • Give your child something similar to do/have instead of the inappropriate behavior.  An example of this may be to offer your child a chewy snack instead of putting toys in their mouth

Escape

  • Be sure to follow through when an instruction is given

  • Validate your child’s frustration and let them know that you understand that they are upset, but they do need to complete whatever task is at hand

  • Try not to force your child to comply.  Have them complete the task at hand when they are calm and ready

  • Remember what the original instruction was and stick with it

  • Reward your child as soon as they complete the non-preferred task

Attention

  • Ignore attention-seeking behavior as much as possible.  Sometimes this is not 100% doable.  If you must provide your child with attention, minimize verbal attention and remain neutral

  • Do not show frustration or anger.  Children with autism sometimes think this is “funny” and may not have the social awareness to truly understand your frustration.  Emotions should be taught when your child is calm and regulated

 

Tangible

  • Not allowing the child to have access until they ask calmly or show that they are calm (if they do not have the language to ask)

  • If you are unable to provide your child access to the preferred item, acknowledge their emotion and their feelings

  • Do not go back on your word.  If you told your child that they cannot have an item, do not give your child that item, especially if they engage in challenging behavior

 

 

Tips provided by Lumiere therapist, Jacqueline M., M.A., BCBA, (Lead Board Certified Behavior Analyst)