Behavioural issues

This is one of the most challenging aspects of autism. A child diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder exhibits a range of symptoms which vary according to where they are placed on that spectrum.

But whether they are at the ’mild’ end or the ’severe’end the fact remains that anyone with this condition displays the same symptoms but at differing levels.

So, a child with mild autism will display only a few signs of their condition whereas a child with a severe form will express a greater range of symptoms and at a greater extent.

Basically, the symptoms will be worse in someone with a severe form of autism compared to someone with a mild version.

An autistic child will exhibit behaviour which is unpredictable, challenging, anti-social or incomprehensible. There are several reasons why they behave in this manner and ways of dealing with this.

Reasons for behavioural difficulties

Your child will display a variety of behaviour which can be attributed to their confusion and difficulty in dealing with the world around them. They find social interaction daunting and cannot always communicate with other people or understand what the other person is saying (and thinking).

Your child may become frustrated when trying to communicate with you or has a particular need which you are unable to decipher. He or she may be uncomfortable with being close to other people or being touched or hugged.

Mixing with other children is another source of discomfort. The autistic child does not pick up on social cues or understand the rules of social interaction which include taking turns in a conversation or asking someone their opinion about something.

The autistic child often has strong views about something and does not realise that someone else will have a different opinion. They often talk over someone else and at length about something which interests them without realising that they are boring the other person.

Your child may find different sensory inputs such as a particular noise, taste, smell or texture distressing or unpleasant to deal with. Their ability to process this information is heightened –they are often hypersensitive to this – which causes them to react in various ways.

These include waving their hands around, banging their head against a surface, spinning around in a circle or screaming. They may even run away from the source of their distress.

A child with autism prefers a strict routine in which they know exactly what is going to happen and when. They prefer to do the same things each day and cannot always deal with a change to their routine. They find the concept of ’free time’ such as the lunchtime interval at school an alien concept.

They are poor at processing information in a linear fashion or understand that actions occur in a sequential way, e.g. A then B followed by C and so on. The concept of time and how we use this to structure our days is another strange concept to an autistic child.

How to interpret autistic behaviour

A good way of approaching this is to think ’what is my child trying to say?’or ’is there a particular reason behind this behaviour?’

If this behaviour takes the form of an outburst or a temper tantrum then it is often a cover for their real thoughts and feelings. This behaviour may be easier to read through body language or gesture but this is something an autistic child finds hard to do.

You may find it useful to keep a diary or journal to record your child’s behaviour. Note down what the behaviour is, where it took place (location) and what you think might have triggered it.

The idea behind this is to identify a recurring pattern of behaviour which will then enable you to deal with this issue.

Dealing with autistic behavioural issues

Once you have identified challenging aspects of behaviour then you can plan a series of ’strategies’ to deal with this. We would suggest that you tackle one or two behaviours at the most. If you try and address several behaviours then it will confuse both you and your child.

Choose a couple from your diary such as the ones which appear to cause the most difficulties and focus upon these. Then devise a set of steps as part of your strategy.

Whatever method or plan you have for dealing with this behaviour there are a few things which will apply to any plan. These include:

  • Patience: try and stay patient even when you feel frustrated as this may be detected by your child. Plus you will not notice any improvements straightaway so be prepared to spend some time doing this.
  • Consistent: adopt a consistent approach in regard to your response to this behaviour. Encourage the rest of your family to do the same.
  • Punishment: avoid punishing your child, e.g. a smack as he/she will not understand why they have been chastised. Plus your child will not adapt their behaviour in the way you want.
  • Interval: set aside a period of time where you and your child take a break. Encourage your child to calm down or to go to an environment where they are likely to feel calm and relaxed.
  • Physical activity: your child will benefit from some exercise or doing a physical activity. This concentrates their mind and reduces the symptoms of autism.
  • Realistic: this means setting realistic goals for both you and your child.

Also bear in mind that autistic child, whilst picking up these coping skills, often find it difficult to use these in a different environment. So, they may be fine with doing so at home but find it hard to transfer these to another environment such as school.

Try to encourage your child to do so.

Other strategies including using picture cards with visual illustrations of emotions to help your child to understand what emotions are and why we have them: another is the use of written cards with a ’behaviour scale’or words which link together an emotion and the resulting action.

For example, ’anxiety’is the emotion and ’wanting to hide’is the action.

Consider writing a short story which contains a scenario about an aspect of behaviour. Remember to praise and reward your child when he/she modifies his/her behaviour or learns a new skill.

Find what works for you and your child and review it at intervals.

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