Understanding maladaptive behavior within the context of autism can be extremely overwhelming and challenging for parents and educators working with neurodivergent children, teenagers, and adults. After all, every individual with autism is unique, and every person’s behavior may differ from another, even just slightly. In some cases, complex maladaptive behaviors can be dangerous and need immediate addressing to keep everyone safe.
As an autism parent, you may have heard the term “maladaptive behavior” but are unsure what it means. In this blog post by ABA Centers of Florida, we will explain maladaptive behavior and how it can affect those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Maladaptive behaviors are often shared among individuals on the spectrum and can adversely impact daily functioning.
This blog will explore many facets of maladaptive behavior, from its effects to recognizing early signs that these behaviors may become a recurring challenge. Furthermore, determining whether certain behaviors are harmless or inappropriate can be difficult for some parents. In many cases, expert ABA intervention, which is objective, remains the most prescribed behavioral approach for those experiencing maladaptive behaviors with ASD.
We hope this blog assists you in navigating this confusing landscape so that you can manage your child’s behavioral outcomes within your home and other settings with greater ease and compassion.
Definition of Maladaptive Behavior in Autism
Autism is a complicated condition that can manifest in different ways. Some children on the spectrum seem slightly eccentric, needing little support to function appropriately. In contrast, others need round-the-clock care managing autism symptoms, including maladaptive behavior that can be dangerous if unmonitored or untreated.
In most cases, maladaptive behavior refers to disruptive behaviors that hinder an individual’s ability to thrive or participate in their environment. Maladaptive behaviors are considered the opposite of adaptive, which are conducive to adjusting to one’s environment appropriately.
Maladaptive types of behavior are challenging not only for the individual with autism but also those around them, including caregivers, educators, and peers. In most cases, ABA professionals can eliminate maladaptive behaviors by teaching the child to communicate their needs in more suitable ways.
Common Examples of Maladaptive Behaviors in Children with Autism
Maladaptive behavior can include but is not limited to:
- Repetitive movements that can be dangerous or harmful
- Aggressive or emotional outbursts
- Difficulty communicating
- Pica (repeatedly consuming inedible objects like dirt, paint, crayons, toys, or clay)
- Extreme pervasive interest that limits engagement in other conversations or activities
Maladaptive behaviors can make it difficult for children with autism to make social and academic progress. However, it’s important to remember that maladaptive behaviors are often a result of the child’s struggle to communicate or regulate their emotions. While all children exhibit some level of challenging behaviors, those with autism often require additional support and intervention to address these sensitive issues.
It’s essential for parents, educators, and caregivers to work together to support children exhibiting maladaptive behaviors, learn better coping strategies, and develop appropriate social skillsets to help them advance through the stages of their life.
Causes of Maladaptive Behavior in Autism
Maladaptive behavior is one of the foremost concerns for children with autism and their caretakers. While the root cause of maladaptive behavior in autism is unclear, researchers have identified several potential factors that can contribute to its development. These include:
- Sensory processing issues
- Communication difficulties
- Social anxiety
- General overwhelm
In many cases, an individual will begin to engage in maladaptive behavior to avoid a demand or escape a situation. The individual may have developed the maladaptive behavior in response to the presented stimulus (or situation). While maladaptive behaviors may seem uncomfortable for the individual engaging in them, they often result in the surrounding circumstances abruptly stopping (i.e., the mom leaves the grocery store, or the child wanders from their play date to stop peer engagement).
In many ways, maladaptive behavior serves the purpose of helping parents and providers understand the need the child is expressing and then offering them a more suitable way to express their distress or lack of interest. By understanding the underlying causes of maladaptive behaviors, parents and ABA providers can minimize their occurrence over time and improve the overall quality of life for those with autism.
Why Remaining Objective about Maladaptive Behavior Is Essential
When parents or caregivers encounter maladaptive behavior, it is natural to feel reactional or even angry at the person exhibiting it. Maladaptive behavior in a public place like a grocery store or subway stop can cause embarrassment and shame for many parents. However, by remaining objective, you can more deeply understand and address the genuine source of the provocation.
Reacting emotionally or angrily to maladaptive behavior can worsen the situation and prevent the individual from getting the help they need. Incidentally, giving wrong attention to maladaptive behaviors can reinforce them, causing them to occur more frequently.
Defining the behavior without being emotional or feeling attacked personally can help you determine how to proceed mindfully and analytically. By staying calm and clear-headed, parents, caregivers, educators, and professionals are better equipped to approach any situation with empathy while also seeking practical solutions.
Ultimately, remaining objective about maladaptive behavior can help us better understand and support those struggling with these behaviors without responding from an emotional place or placing judgment on the experience, which can be disempowering for everyone.
Strategies for Managing and Reducing Maladaptive Behaviors
Maladaptive behaviors can be challenging to manage and reduce. Still, it’s possible and essential to do so for an individual’s overall well-being. As mentioned, these behaviors are often responses learned to cope with difficult situations or emotions. Unfortunately, they often do more harm than good in the long run. However, breaking free from these devastating patterns is possible with the right strategies.
ABA therapy remains the gold standard in autism treatment. As mentioned, this approach helps many children with ASD get past their maladaptive behaviors to better connect with their world and communicate. Instead of resorting to maladaptive actions, kids can learn to request breaks or express sensory overload. Positive reinforcement in ABA therapy is another technique that can help shape behavior, as it focuses on recognizing and rewarding desirable behaviors to promote change over time.
Furthermore, ABA providers often utilize visual supports to describe situations or changes in a routine before they happen to set expectations and minimize distress leading to maladaptive behaviors. Additionally, visual supports can also improve communication.
Importance of ABA Intervention to Reduce and Manage Maladaptive Behaviors
Through one-on-one ABA sessions with Registered Behavior Technicians (RBT) and Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA), professionals can identify the specific triggers and consequences that are maintaining or provoking these behaviors, simplifying life for families in many ways.
ABA professionals also help families develop personalized plans to help their loved ones learn new, more appropriate behaviors to replace the maladaptive ones they previously demonstrated. Additionally, ABA care offers parents supportive guidance through maladaptive behaviors and other problematic aspects of raising an ASD child through parent training.
With dedication, patience, and the inclusion of expert ABA support, it’s possible to manage the most severe cases of ASD and reduce maladaptive behaviors leading to a more fulfilling life.
Maladaptive Behavior Doesn’t Have to Be Part of Your Normal Routine
Maladaptive behavior in children with autism can vary from mild to severe, and it presents many challenges for parents and caregivers. Parents should do their best to remain objective and look at the situation without judgment for true breakthroughs. Although complex behaviors can present obstacles, there are strategies for managing and reducing them, like implementing ABA therapy within the home setting. ABA support can help your child with ASD gain confidence and independence around communication and expression so their behaviors improve.
ABA Centers of Florida Understands Maladaptive Behaviors
For many families living with maladaptive behaviors in the context of autism, professional intervention is often necessary to achieve truly successful long-term outcomes. Here at ABA Centers of Florida, we have the resources and qualifications to address maladaptive behavior in a practical, compassionate, and playful manner that always considers your child’s well-being first and foremost.
We believe in working collaboratively with families to identify sources of complex, sometimes destructive behaviors and provide preventative guidance you can utilize throughout your child’s daily routine. So, if you are seeking assistance in managing your child’s maladaptive behaviors, please do not hesitate to contact us today!
Reach us at (772) 773-1975 or click here to learn more about our ABA therapeutic services!