Expert Tips for Handling Autism Behavior Problems

Expert tips for handling autism behavior problems. Navigate challenges with effective strategies and communication techniques.

Published on
April 27, 2024

Expert Tips for Handling Autism Behavior Problems

Understanding Autism Behavior

Understanding the behavior of individuals with autism is crucial in effectively supporting and communicating with them. Two key aspects to consider are the importance of routines and sensory sensitivities associated with autism.

Importance of Routines

Routines play a significant role in the lives of individuals with autism. The adherence to an established routine can bring stability and comfort, particularly for children with autism. Daily routines provide predictability, which can help autistic individuals function more independently and improve their social-emotional health.

Children with autism often have a natural inclination towards routines, as they tend to prefer repetition and sameness in their activities, hobbies, mealtimes, and bedtime. Having a familiar routine in place can bring stress relief by giving them a sense of knowing what to expect at any given time in their schedule, enabling them to navigate their lives more easily and confidently.

Moreover, a familiar routine can create a sense of safety and security for autistic individuals, putting them in a receptive state to strengthen existing skills and learn new ones. It helps them cope with anxiety-inducing situations and sets them up for achieving new milestones [1].

Sensory Sensitivities

Autistic individuals can experience sensory sensitivities, which may include hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to sensory stimuli. These sensitivities may not necessarily be outgrown but can be managed as they age. Sensory sensitivities can also intensify when individuals with autism are stressed or anxious.

Oversensitive autistic individuals may exhibit behaviors such as avoiding sensory experiences, expressing distress through crying or withdrawal, covering their ears or eyes, and feeling restless, stressed, or irritable in response to sensations they dislike. Bright or sunlit rooms, certain textures or tastes in food, loud sounds, or physical contact can trigger discomfort in individuals who are oversensitive to sensory stimuli.

On the other hand, autistic individuals who are undersensitive may actively seek out sensory experiences. They may enjoy bright colors, explore textures through touch, consume strongly flavored foods, or miss strong odors. Difficulties with fine motor skills and balance may also be observed in individuals who are undersensitive to sensory stimuli.

Sensory sensitivities can impact various aspects of an autistic individual's life, including family activities, school performance, and emotional well-being. Seeking help from professionals such as occupational therapists, dietitians, speech pathologists, optometrists, and audiologists can assist in effectively managing and addressing sensory issues.

Strategies for Managing Autism Behavior

When it comes to managing behavior in individuals with autism, it is important to employ strategies that are effective and tailored to their specific needs. Two key strategies that can be beneficial are predictable routines and visual strategies.

Predictable Routines

Children with autism often thrive in environments that provide structure and predictability. Routines are particularly helpful due to their repetitive patterns of behavior, activities, and hobbies. Adhering to an established routine can bring stability and comfort to their lives.

Implementing a predictable, daily routine for individuals with autism helps them function more independently and improve their social-emotional health. Routines come naturally to children with autism as they tend to prefer repetition and sameness in their activities, mealtimes, hobbies, and bedtime.

A familiar routine can provide stress relief for individuals with autism by giving them a sense of knowing what to expect at any given time in their schedule. This helps them navigate their lives with ease and confidence. Furthermore, a predictable routine can help autistic individuals feel safe, secure, and receptive to strengthening existing skills and learning new ones. It can also aid them in coping with anxiety-inducing situations and setting them up for success.

Visual Strategies

Visual strategies are effective tools for individuals with autism to understand and follow routines, communicate, and manage their behavior. These strategies utilize visual aids such as schedules, calendars, and social stories to provide clear and concrete information.

  • Schedules: Visual schedules use pictures, symbols, or written words to outline the sequence of activities or tasks throughout the day. This visual representation helps individuals with autism understand and anticipate what will happen next, reducing anxiety and promoting independence.
  • Calendars: Calendars can help individuals with autism keep track of important dates, events, and activities. By using visual cues, such as color-coding or pictures, individuals can better understand the passage of time and upcoming events.
  • Social Stories: Social stories are short narratives that describe social situations, events, or behaviors. These stories are personalized to the individual's specific needs and help them understand and navigate social interactions. Social stories provide guidance on expected behavior, emotions, and the consequences of certain actions.

Implementing visual strategies requires clear and consistent communication. It is important to create visual aids that are easily understandable and catered to the individual's developmental level and preferences. Visual strategies can be used in various settings, including home, school, and community environments, to support individuals with autism in managing their behavior effectively.

By incorporating predictable routines and visual strategies into the daily lives of individuals with autism, caregivers and professionals can create a supportive and structured environment. These strategies can help reduce anxiety, enhance communication, and improve behavior management, ultimately promoting the overall well-being of individuals with autism.

Addressing Problem Behaviors

When it comes to managing problem behaviors in individuals with autism, there are various approaches and therapies available. Two common strategies include Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and other treatment approaches.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a widely recognized and evidence-based treatment approach for addressing problem behaviors in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ABA focuses on identifying the purpose of the behavior and developing a treatment plan that promotes more appropriate ways for the individual to express themselves or meet their needs.

ABA-based interventions often involve breaking down tasks into smaller, achievable steps and gradually increasing demands over time. Practice sessions may take place at home or in a structured clinical setting, allowing individuals to learn and generalize new skills in different environments.

The duration of ABA treatment for problem behaviors in autism varies depending on the individual's specific needs. Services may be available through the individual's school, such as an individualized education program (IEP) that includes a behavior intervention plan (BIP) to target problem behaviors. Consulting with a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA or BCBA-Doctorate) or a psychologist experienced in behavior interventions can provide guidance on effective strategies and help develop a personalized treatment plan.

Treatment Approaches

In addition to ABA, there are other treatment approaches available to address problem behaviors in individuals with autism. These approaches may be used in conjunction with ABA or as standalone interventions, depending on the individual's needs and goals.

  • Counseling: Counseling can be beneficial for individuals with autism and their families. It provides a safe space to explore emotions, develop coping strategies, and improve communication skills. Different types of counseling, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or play therapy, may be utilized based on the individual's age and specific challenges.
  • Medication: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage specific symptoms or co-occurring conditions associated with autism. Medical professionals, such as psychiatrists or pediatricians, can assess the individual's needs and determine if medication is appropriate and beneficial.

The choice of treatment approach depends on the individual's unique needs and should be discussed with healthcare professionals experienced in working with individuals with autism. It is important to consider a holistic approach that not only addresses problem behaviors but also focuses on improving the overall well-being of the individual and their family [4].

Navigating problem behaviors in autism requires a personalized and comprehensive approach. By utilizing evidence-based strategies like ABA and exploring other treatment approaches, individuals with autism can receive the support they need to manage their behaviors and enhance their overall quality of life.

Communication Strategies

Effective communication is crucial for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to express their thoughts, needs, and emotions. There are various strategies available to support communication for individuals with ASD. Two commonly used strategies are social stories and the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS).

Social Stories

Social stories are a visual tool that helps individuals with ASD understand and navigate social situations. They use simple language and visual cues to explain social norms, expectations, and appropriate behaviors in specific contexts. Social stories can be customized to address individual needs and can cover a wide range of topics, such as going to school, making friends, or handling changes in routine.

By presenting information in a structured and predictable format, social stories help individuals with ASD develop a better understanding of social situations, which can reduce anxiety and improve their social interactions. These stories can be created using pictures, written text, or a combination of both. It's important to tailor the content and language of social stories to the individual's cognitive and language abilities.

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a communication strategy that uses images to facilitate communication for individuals with limited verbal skills. PECS allows individuals to express their needs and wants by exchanging pictures with a communication partner. The communication partner initially prompts the individual to hand over a specific picture representing their desired item or action. Over time, individuals with ASD learn to initiate communication by independently selecting and presenting the appropriate picture.

PECS provides a structured and visual means of communication, allowing individuals with ASD to effectively communicate their needs and preferences. It can be particularly beneficial for individuals who struggle with verbal communication or have difficulty understanding and using spoken language.

Both social stories and PECS can be implemented in various settings, including home, school, and therapy sessions. It's essential to work with professionals, such as therapists and educators, to develop and implement these strategies effectively. By utilizing these communication strategies, individuals with ASD can enhance their ability to express themselves and engage in meaningful interactions with others.

Sleep and Behavior in Autism

Sleep plays a crucial role in the overall well-being and behavior of individuals with autism. Many children with autism experience difficulties with sleep, and these sleep problems can often contribute to challenging behaviors. Understanding the importance of good sleep and implementing strategies to manage behavior challenges can greatly benefit individuals with autism.

Importance of Good Sleep

Good sleep is essential for individuals with autism as it has been linked to better daily living skills, social skills, and language development. Sleep disturbances can exacerbate behavioral problems, leading to increased irritability, aggression, and difficulty with self-regulation. It is crucial for parents and caregivers to address sleep issues and seek support from healthcare providers.

Managing Behavior Challenges

When children with autism struggle with sleep, they may exhibit challenging behaviors, such as increased aggression or self-harm. It is essential to identify and address the underlying causes of sleep disturbances and develop strategies to manage behavior challenges effectively.

Medications, such as Risperidone and Aripiprazole, have shown efficacy in reducing irritability and aggression in individuals with autism. However, it is important to note that these medications may be associated with weight gain. Healthcare providers may consider alternative medications like Metformin, which can help manage aggression while maintaining a healthy weight [4].

In addition to medication, behavioral interventions can also be effective in managing behavior challenges associated with sleep disturbances. Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is a widely recognized treatment approach for children with autism. ABA interventions have shown improvements in cognitive abilities, language skills, social/communication skills, problem behavior, and more. ABA therapy focuses on teaching adaptive behaviors and reducing challenging behaviors through systematic and structured techniques.

Implementing a consistent sleep routine is vital for individuals with autism. Establishing a predictable bedtime routine can help signal to the body that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Creating a calming environment with dim lighting, soothing activities, and minimizing sensory stimuli before bedtime can contribute to better sleep quality.

It is important for parents and caregivers to seek guidance from healthcare professionals and autism specialists to develop personalized strategies for managing behavior challenges related to sleep disturbances. By prioritizing good sleep hygiene and implementing appropriate interventions, individuals with autism can experience improved behavior and overall well-being.

Critiques and Controversies

While Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a widely used therapy for managing behavior problems in individuals with autism, it has faced criticism and controversies. It's important to consider different perspectives to have a comprehensive understanding of the topic.

ABA Therapy Criticisms

One of the criticisms of ABA therapy is its historical use of punishments alongside rewards. However, it is important to note that punishments are no longer used in modern ABA practices. Critics argue that ABA can be too repetitive and demanding for children, potentially causing distress.

Supporters of ABA, on the other hand, maintain that modern ABA is often less repetitive and focuses on making learning enjoyable for the child. Practitioners are trained to create a positive and engaging environment to promote skill development.

Another criticism of ABA is that it tends to prioritize the elimination of behaviors rather than building new skills. Some practitioners acknowledge this concern and emphasize the need for therapy to focus on teaching desired behaviors rather than solely focusing on eliminating unwanted ones.

Advocating for Autistic Needs

Autistic self-advocates argue that ABA aims to make individuals with autism conform to neurotypical standards, which they believe is inappropriate. They argue that autistic individuals have unique needs and that therapies should focus on supporting their differences rather than trying to change them. Some self-advocates find speech and language therapy more helpful in building skills and promoting independence.

Defenders of ABA emphasize that the therapy is not aimed at erasing neurodiversity but rather enabling independence for individuals with autism. A good ABA therapist aims to build upon the strengths of the individual, allowing them to participate in society and have choices, while maximizing joy and functionality for the child.

It's important to recognize that there are different perspectives surrounding ABA therapy. While many studies have shown its effectiveness in helping individuals with autism learn skills and manage behavior problems, it's crucial to consider individual needs and preferences when selecting an appropriate intervention. Consulting with professionals and understanding the unique needs of each individual can help guide decision-making in managing autism behavior.