Tips On Managing Challenging Behaviours

Challenging behaviours of children with autism can be stressful and frustrating for parents and caregivers. However, we need to take note that our children are not doing it on purpose. Some of the reasons why these behaviours happen include difficulty communicating their needs and wants, having trouble understanding what is happening around them, sensory overload or simply feeling anxious.

The principle of Applied Behavioural Analysis is that consequences have an impact on behaviour. This means that whatever behaviour we give attention and reinforcement to will increase. This includes good behaviours as well as challenging behaviours.  

1. Identify the cause of the behaviour

It is important to identify why the behaviour is occurring. Is this behaviour serving a purpose? What is the child trying to communicate through the behaviour? Is the environment too overwhelming for the child, and the behaviour is an exit strategy for him? Find the pattern behind the behaviour each time it occurs, and work from there.

2. Prevent the behaviour

Try to spend a majority of your time on preventing the challenging behaviours by setting your child up to be successful, communicating to your child of upcoming events or changes and teaching your child the appropriate skills they need to cope in that particular situation. One example we are going to expand on today is:To Foreshadow

Foreshadow the end of a preferred activity or transitions or changes for your child. This is a preventative method rather than a reactive one. Once you have identified the pattern and cause of the behaviour, it is easier to prevent it from occurring in the future. Use tools like a timer, a visual schedule or the "First ___, Then ___" strategy. For example, if you know a behaviour occurs every time you transition from play time into meal time, give your child predictability by putting on the timer, counting down to the end of play time. That way, the change is not too drastic for your child. You can also include meal time into his visual schedule, so he knows what's coming next.

3. Extinct (ignore) the inappropriate behaviour and redirect your child

Rather than giving unnecessary attention to the behaviour, try to ignore the behaviour by not giving direct attention to a child. For instance, try not to have eye contact with the child, or speak directly at the child or carry the child, but instead redirect the child to a different activity. This takes the focus off the inappropriate behaviour to a more appropriate one. In other words, redirecting serves as a way of replacing the inappropriate behaviour. 

Here is an example: A child starts to have a meltdown (cry and stomp his feet) because his mum took her phone back. Instead of saying "Stop crying!" or "Are you okay?" or giving the phone back to the child, the mum could walk away slightly and start to look at some books or toys, and comment to herself about them, making it seem seem like she is having such a good time so that the child would come over to see what she is doing. 

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Here are 5 things you should NOT do when your child is engaging in a challenging behaviour.

1. Shout back

Sometimes, we think that the only way to get their attention is to be louder than they are. However, shouting at your child or trying to control them might only increase the behaviour. This is because they may feel even more anxious than they already are. Traditional discipline does not work for children with autism as they may copy the behaviour they observe you model. Therefore, it is important to keep your voice and tone neutral. Shouting back also provides unnecessary attention, which will only reinforce the inappropriate behaviour.

2. Cane your child

As mentioned earlier, children with autism do not display challenging behaviours on purpose. Sometimes, it is just a form of communication. Therefore, they should not be punished for their behaviours, especially not physically. Furthermore, some children with autism do not understand cause and effect, and they may not be able to relate the caning to their inappropriate behaviour. Punishing your child by caning them may only make the behaviours worse and harder to change. Also, responding with violence can reinforce that it is okay to be violent when feeling upset.

3. Cuddle

As parents, you may feel that it is your fault whenever a behaviour occurs, simply because you feel like they cannot communicate to you. While cuddling them may make you feel better, it gives unnecessary attention to the behaviour. However, this does not mean you simply ignore your child when a behaviour occurs. Practice extinction with the behaviour, not the child.

4. Threaten

"Stop it right now, or I will spank you." Sure, it may have worked before, but this is because fear is placed into them. Instilling fear is not the right way to stop or change a behaviour. On the other hand, children with autism may not even understand the threat or relate it to their behaviour. It may cause the behaviour to increase as it gives unnecessary attention.  

5. Bribing

Bribing is never the solution to a problem. By bribing your child with toys, gadgets, food or even money, it only reinforces their behaviour because they know that they can get anything they want by doing so. You will soon see a pattern of them throwing a behaviour every time they want something.

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We hope that these tips will help you manage your child's behaviour. For further enquiries, do not hesitate to contact us at 03-20940421 or drop us an email at enquiries@autismmalaysia.com. Stay updated with our social media, Facebook and Instagram, as well as our website for regular updates and resources.