At ABA Centers of Florida, we aim to educate and help the parents and caregivers of kids with autism almost as much as the children themselves. As the name implies, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) encompasses a wide range of behavior. On the less extreme end, you have problems communicating and relating to others. However, in their quest to understand themselves and their surroundings, kids diagnosed on the spectrum may have a behavioral problem that bumps against healthy social conventions.
Before discussing these, it’s important to note that not all neurodivergent kids will exhibit the following behaviors; even if they do, it is not out of malice. Dealing with a behavioral problem on the spectrum requires compassion and patience because they are a reaction to an uncertain world that those with autism experience differently.
Since communication is challenging for kids on the spectrum, it’s vital to understand the meanings behind what they do. Are they hitting themselves because a situation deeply frustrates them, and they haven’t found a better way of expressing it? Are they yelling because they are overstimulated? The behavior is just as important as the root cause of what they are trying to convey. While applied behavior therapy (ABA) helps to teach healthier coping mechanisms, parents should avoid stigmatizing these behaviors long before therapy.
Behavioral problems are often in reaction to a stimulus that those on the spectrum are ill-equipped to process. These are commonly called autism triggers, stressors that are difficult to handle for those with sensory issues. This article explores behavioral problems, their corresponding triggers, and how to address them.
Behavioral Problems in Autism
The following list of harmful behaviors is not exhaustive, but it covers some common and harmful behaviors that those on the spectrum engage in when facing difficulty.
- Verbal/Physical Aggression
- Theft of Objects
- Running Away
- Sexual Behavior
- Extreme Noisemaking
1. Verbal or Physical Aggression
Aggression is a dangerous behavioral problem because it has many adverse outcomes. Retaliation from peers, burnout from caretakers, problems with career, a smaller social circle, and isolation are just a few of the potential hazards of aggressive behavior.
Let’s begin with verbal. First, it’s essential to determine the severity of aggression. Is your child actively seeking to insult and hurt others? Are they doing of bullying, or is it merely a misunderstanding?
Those on the spectrum have difficulty ascertaining others’ emotions and, therefore, may reply in ways that seem rude. If your child is coping with a bully, it’s best to address it through the relevant administration or parents. If not, you should speak to them and explain there are healthier ways of getting what they want.
The same applies to physical aggression. Instead of a child hitting a mother for attention, they can touch her picture or call her name. The key is understanding what therapists call functions, the reason behind the behavior, and teaching healthier ways to address wants. ABA therapy uses positive reinforcement to accomplish this, rewarding the child when they demonstrate healthier communication skills.
Kids on the spectrum have strong emotions, and even though they react to them differently, these emotions are valid and worth recognizing. They feel frustration, depression, and anxiety, powerful feelings everyone struggles with controlling. As a result, this behavioral problem can sometimes turn to self-injury, which is different from self-harm. When it comes to self-injury, harming themselves is not the intent. They are simply trying to express something they don’t have the words to describe!
Aside from removing potentially dangerous items with which your child can cause real damage, communication is once again the key. Teaching your child healthier coping mechanisms to express behavior, for example, asking them how they would feel if someone they love was hurt, can go a long way to stopping this behavioral problem.
3. Theft of Objects
This behavioral problem goes hand in hand with poor recognition of social cues and personal space. Often, kids on the spectrum don’t understand the concept of personal property. They might see something they want and not realize that they are depriving someone else by taking it.
This behavior can be managed by explaining to only take something after asking first and to stick to items they already own generally. Pack a hearty lunch for your kid if the issue is taking food or drinks.
4. Running Away
This behavioral problem comes with general unawareness of expectations. Those on the spectrum often do not realize that parents and teachers expect them to remain somewhere or that their presence is required. Setting the correct expectations with clear communication should address the issue.
Sometimes this behavioral problem is just a form of stimuli avoidance.
Kids diagnosed with autism have problems with overstimulation and may be hypersensitive to loud noises, bright lights, cramped spaces, crowds, and physical touch. It’s incumbent on you to understand the triggers for this behavior and learn to manage them. Informing those in a family or friendly gathering of your child’s condition and that perhaps it’s best not to hug them is a fantastic way to avoid any issues.
5. Sexual Behavior
This behavioral problem is particularly troublesome because it opens your child to the exploitation of the worst kind. Inappropriate sexual behavior comes in many forms, mainly public exposure of genitals or actual genital stimulation. Conversely, the root cause can be a simple misunderstanding of social rules. On the more extreme, sexual gratification becomes a particular interest of the person on the spectrum, and they fixate on it.
Since this problem behavior has severe legal and social consequences, it is critical to seek therapy if your child exhibits it. ABA Therapy can help your child navigate healthier ways to understand and express their sexuality in the appropriate context.
6. Extreme Noisemaking
Like aggression and running away, the function of this problem behavior needs to be analyzed. Is your child trying to get your attention, and this seems like the best way? Are they upset and want something to stop? Good communication with your child is the recurring theme of dealing with problem behavior.
Your child must feel comfortable discussing difficult things with you and view you as a source of safety, stability, and love. This relationship is built with compassion and patience, day by day establishing a mutual bond that can help your loved one grow in a positive direction.
ABA Centers of Florida and Managing a Behavioral Problem
You don’t have to engage with a behavioral problem alone. Many of the issues described in this article need therapist intervention, and expert action plans to address and resolve them. ABA Centers of Florida is here to help, no matter how challenging the behavior. We specialize in ABA Therapy, the gold standard of care for autism spectrum disorder. Using positive reinforcement, play-based therapy, and frequent sessions overseen by licensed therapists, your child can learn positive skills that will help them in every aspect of life.