Challenging Behaviors and Autism Tips

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Autism and Adolescence

Adolescence is a difficult time for any child transitioning through this stage of life. Individuals with autism are faced with unique challenges relevant to their particular level of functioning. Individuals with high-functioning autism may be particularly sensitive during their adolescent years. While they may be aware other teens have friends, they may lack the social skills to make friends of their own. Navigating social situations does not come naturally for them. They cannot pick up the subtle cues other teens use to express how they feel about another person. Sarcasm is frequently used in conversation at this age and is often missed or interpreted literally by the person with Asperger's. In addition, some adolescents with autism have difficulty understanding modesty and the delicate social rules when it comes to sexuality. Parents and caregivers will need to be direct with their child, making sure that boundaries are very clear. Regardless of the child's level of functionality, Social Stories are often an effective means of helping them to understand what behaviors are appropriate, especially if picutres are uses. Likewise, many schools offer social skill groups which can help children learn how to interact with peers. Speech therapists can also incorporate social skills in their sessions, teaching students basic conversation skills which might not otherwise come naturally for them.

What are some strategies to encourage compliant behavior at home?


Compliance in the home environment is an issue that many families with an autistic member face. Non-compliant behavior can be very challenging and it may escalate into negative behavior and tantrums. There are some strategies that encourage compliant behavior.

  • A child may not follow through with directions simply because he has not processed the command. If a directive has too many words and is complicated the individual with autism is unable to process the information. He is unable to follow a direction that he has not processed.

  • A spoken directive should contain as few words as possible. This will make processing the command much easier for the autistic individual. Using concise directions may feel a little strange or even rude at first but they are quite kind to the person with autism.

  • Visual aids are extremely helpful in gaining compliant behavior. Using PECS as a means of giving directions is a great way to make the command visual. Gestures and sign language can be effective as well.

  • The compliant behavior will most likely be repeated if it is rewarded. Using praise, treats or a preferred activity to reinforce the compliant behavior is a wonderful approach to encourage future compliance when the command is given again.

How can families deal with negative behavior in the home?

Negative Behavior

Negative behavior comes in many forms for many reasons. Finding the reason behind the behavior will help but playing a guessing game while the child is having a tantrum does little good for anyone involved. Quickly redirecting negative behavior can be an effective way to smother the behavior in the home environment. Redirection simply involves moving the child's attention in a completely different direction. There is no argument or mention of the negative behavior. the focus is on the new activity. Planned ignoring is a method that sends a powerful message to the individual with autism. There will be no feedback provided for negative behavior. This approach needs to be used consistently to be effective and the negative behavior may not disappear right away but it will in time. Some negative behavior can not be redirected or ignored. These are non-negotiable and include any behavior that will cause injury to self or others or damage property. Many families devise a reward system that uses tokens or stickers to help the autistic individual recognize positive and negative behaviors. Removing a token or taking away a preferred play activity from the schedule are consequences for non-negotiable behaviors. Some negative behaviors are too violent to be ignored and most consequences do little to stop the behavior. Sometimes crisis interventions need to be used.

Is negative behavior ever a promising occurance?

When Bad Behavior is Good

Not all bad behavior is really bad. In fact, sometimes negative behavior is a wonderful sign that the individual is becoming aware of his surroundings. The negative behavior is also a form of communication as well. There is a distinction that has to be made between being compliant and being complacent. Many individuals, especially ones who have spent considerable time completing discrete trial drills, merely go through the motions. They are not actively involved with their environments. They have simply been trained to make certain responses to certain cues. When a complacent individual begins to protest and whine when given directions it indicates that he is trying to communicate. He is also developing an awareness that his behavior can have an impact on his environment. While it isn't wise to encourage non-compliant behaviors, it is promising to see an individual in the autism spectrum move from complacent behavior to protesting. The individual may be given choices if he demonstrates that he sincerely does not want to complete a task.

What is non-negotiable behavior?

Dealing with Extreme Non-Negotiable Behavior

Some behaviors should not be ignored. Any extreme, violent behaviors are non-negotiable. Non-negotiable behaviors include any action that may cause self injury or injury to others as well as behaviors that may cause damage to property. Planned ignoring and redirection do not adequately address these extreme negative behaviors, but there are interventions that can be used in their place. There has to be an immediate and meaningful consequence to the non-negotiable behavior. The treatment plan will include a crisis management section that is designed to address non-negotiable behavior. Common interventions include relocating the individual as well as your self to a new location. Move all items out of the child's reach. Sometimes the presence of the person who is not the target of the non-negotiable behavior will immediately calm the autistic person.

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