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How to deal with autism behavioural problems

Managing a child’s misbehaviour can be challenging for any parent, but for parents of an autistic child, the issue can seem even more difficult. Follow these strategies to help manage your child’s behaviour effectively.

Boy with autism crying

Behaviour is communication

While it can be difficult to understand autistic behaviour as a person who is not on the spectrum, it is important to understand that your child’s behaviour often arises out of a particular need or want. Learning the cause of the behaviour is an important component in understanding how to deal with it. Shannon Des Roches Rosa has an article on the website she co-founded, Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, about how behaviour is used as a form of communication for individuals who have autism. Shannon says, “It’s important to decide which behaviors are actually getting in the way of your child’s ability to function, and which are merely quirky or inconvenient.” She suggests focusing on the behaviours that affect your child’s functioning first, and then address behaviours used to self-soothe. To understand your child’s behaviour, you need to look for triggers. You might find that the behaviour occurs at a certain time of day or that it occurs after a certain event. There are a number of different types of triggers.

Shannon also recommends reading the blogs of autistic adults to gain a better understanding of your child, for example Yes, That Too, which is written by young blogger who discusses her life and experiences as an “autistic person.”

Sensory causes

Sensory overstimulation is a major cause of autism behavioural problems. In these situations, your child might show repetitive behaviours, such as hand flapping, in an attempt to relieve their stress. Sensory overstimulation can be caused by a number of things, such as the humming of your refrigerator or eye contact. This isn’t a behaviour that should be punished; rather, it should be taken as a sign that your child might need a sensory break. This can include wrapping them in a weighted blanket, engaging them in physical activity, having them play with sensory toys or inserting earplugs into their ears. Be sure to reward your child for getting through difficult activities.

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If your child is not able to communicate their wants and needs, they might become frustrated, which can cause poor behaviour or outbursts. To combat this, try alternative methods of communication, such as visual symbols or assistive technology devices. Communicating effectively with your child can also help regulate behaviour. Ensure that your child understands the daily schedule, and present it in an easy-to-understand visual format.

You might need to be specific as a way to provide structure. For example, explain what you will be playing with at playtime, or outline the stores you will visit when running errands. Use social stories to demonstrate to your child what is expected.

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Medical issues

Children with autism can have difficulty communicating that they aren’t feeling well. If your child’s behaviour is not typical, it might have an underlying cause. Get your child to point at the part of their body that is bothering them. Their behaviour might also provide clues, or look for any sources of pain on your child’s body; remember to check their teeth too. Your child might also show certain specific behaviours when hungry, tired or thirsty. If the behaviour occurs at the same time of day, often one of these is the cause. If you understand what is causing the behaviour, you might be able to prevent it.

More on autism

Coping with an autism diagnosis
Autism warning signs
Could a change in diet help your child’s autism?

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