Autism Behavior Interventions & Strategies

Addressing problem behaviors for children with autism is essential. Inappropriate behaviors can lead to social isolation and interfere with learning and development. Remember children on the spectrum often miss nonverbal social cues. Therefore teaching appropriate behavior should be taught deliberately with lots of repetition.

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Behavior Modification

The goal of behavior modification is to change an undesirable behavior to a desirable one. But before you can help someone change a behavior, you need to find out what causes it to occur. Remember there is always a reason why a person is doing something. Usually a child will exhibit problematic behavior because they want something or they are avoiding something.

Many times autistic people may have sensory processing problems. This can cause them to respond to normal sensory experiences in odd or exaggerated ways. If this is the case, punishing them is not an appropriate response. Instead changing the environment or providing sensory integration therapy may be the best option.

For behavior modification to be successful it must be:

  • Structured: There must be a clear system of rewards for desired behaviors and consequences for inappropriate ones.
  • Consistent: Consistently rewarding appropriate behavior and giving consequences for inappropriate behavior is essential to success. Ignoring inappropriate behaviors or forgetting to reward positive ones will undermine the behavioral plan. Consistency is the key to success!
  • Clear: The child must understand what the problem behavior is, what the consequence will be if they exhibit the problem behavior and what will happen if they exhibit the desired behavior.

Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA

ABA is an intensive behavioral approach that expands on the basic reward-consequence model. ABA behavioral trains a child in small, incremental steps to meet larger goals, with each step along the way rewarded. ABA can teach appropriate social behaviors, language skills, and academics. ABA is most effective it’s started before the age of five and is done in an intensive program that involves at least twenty hours a week of one-on-one training with therapists.

More Behavioral Strategies: Create a Routine

Children with autism tend to behave better with structure, because they know what to expect and what is expected of them. Routines can help decrease anxiety and make transitioning from one activity to another easier. Introducing small changes to your child’s routine can help your child develop coping strategies to deal with transitions. When changes to the routine need to be made, use strategies like social stories to help lessen the anxiety that transitions often present.

Set Meaningful Consequences

Many times people on the spectrum have problems understanding the concept of a time out or why things are being removed. It is imperative that the child understands the consequences the caregivers have set for specific behaviors. Furthermore, time out in their room may not be a negative consequence for your child. Be sure the consequence you provide does not accidentally reinforce the negative behavior.