Parenting is a complex journey filled with joy and difficulties. When caring for a child with autism, parents often face the task of navigating through various behaviors and searching for effective strategies to meet their child’s needs. Autism presents a distinctive set of challenges, such as meltdowns, self-stimulatory behaviors, and struggles with transitions. It’s crucial for parents to acknowledge that these behaviors are not intentional or calculated actions, but rather forms of communication. By recognizing that our children are using these behaviors to convey their needs, frustrations, or discomfort, we can approach each situation with empathy and a deeper understanding.
Understanding the Reason Behind a Child’s Behavior
One valuable approach for managing challenging behaviors is Positive Behavior Support (PBS). This evidence-based approach focuses on understanding the function or purpose behind the behaviors and implementing strategies to meet those needs in more appropriate ways. Let’s say we have a child named Alex who frequently exhibits aggressive behavior when interacting with peers. In PBS, a functional assessment is done and may reveal for instance, that he tends to display aggressive behaviors when he feels frustrated in his desire for attention from his peers. This understanding informs the strategies that are tailored to support the child. One component of the plan might involve teaching Alex alternative ways to express his frustration or how to seek attention in more appropriate ways, like using words or asking an adult for help.
Viktoria Scott, Assistant Director of the Educational & Therapeutic Resources Team from Apex Social Group, a live-in developmental childcare solution, shares an example: “One host child with autism displayed head-banging behavior when his Apex Care Professional joined the family. I assisted the Care Professional in observing and documenting the antecedents and consequences of the head-banging behavior. This process helped her realize that he banged his head in two different ways. At times, he would place his arm between the surface and his head, usually when the adults’ attention was focused on his siblings rather than on him. However, most of the time, he exhibited signs of frustration (precursor behaviors) before banging his head against a hard surface.
To address this, his Care Professional began redirecting him to ask for help when she noticed these precursor behaviors. Over the course of six months, by utilizing Positive Behavior Support, he learned to request help when needed, and as a result, the head-banging behavior ceased entirely.”
Maximizing Visual Support Tools and Behavior Management Techniques
Visual supports are another powerful tool in managing challenging behaviors and promoting effective communication. By providing a visual structure, you can help your child navigate their environment and anticipate what will happen next. Visual schedules, for example, break down tasks or routines into visual steps using pictures, symbols or written words. This provides predictability, reduces anxiety, and supports smoother transitions. Social stories are also effective in explaining social situations, social cues and appropriate behaviors. By using visual narratives, we can help our child understand expectations and consequences, fostering effective communication and social understanding.
In addition to positive behavior support and visual support, behavior management techniques play a crucial role in addressing challenging behaviors. Antecedent manipulation, which involves modifying the environment to prevent triggers, can help minimize the occurrence of challenging behaviors. By providing clear communication through visual cues or warnings before transitions, we can reduce anxiety and enhance understanding. Creating a structured environment with clear routines and utilizing visual supports can also promote positive behavior and effective communication. Reinforcement and consequence strategies further encourage desired behaviors and address challenging behaviors. By consistently reinforcing positive communication attempts and self-regulation strategies, we foster the development of more adaptive ways for our child to express their needs.
Scott describes the progress of another boy with autism, who exhibits a range of challenging behaviors. “These behaviors were often triggered by last-minute changes to plans, sensory dysregulations, or reminders of past traumatic events. To address these challenges, his Apex Care Professional utilized various strategies to help him process and accept changes in his routine, such as visual schedules and giving ample warning beforehand. This approach has proven highly effective in reducing the frequency and intensity of meltdowns triggered by unexpected changes.
Furthermore, his Care Professional implements antecedent interventions to cater to the boy’s sensory needs. In his visual schedule, she builds in frequent gross motor activities and sensory breaks. These activities involve playing outside, visiting the park, or going on scavenger hunts around the house. Additionally, she ensures sensory breaks where he can seek comfort in his Stages Snug Sub, relax by crashing into pillows or use his sensory swing. These interventions have resulted in a remarkable decrease in the intensity and duration of meltdowns triggered by past trauma.”
Meeting Each Child’s Unique Needs
In conclusion, managing challenging behaviors in children with autism requires an understanding that behaviors are a form of communication. By recognizing that our children are expressing their needs, frustrations or discomfort through these behaviors, we can respond with empathy and support. Implementing strategies such as PBS, visual supports, and behavior management techniques can effectively address these behaviors and promote effective communication. Remember that each child is unique and it’s crucial to tailor these strategies to meet their individual needs. Seeking guidance from professionals and connecting with support networks can provide valuable resources and insights. With the right tools and support, we can navigate the challenges associated with challenging behaviors and create a positive and nurturing environment for our children with autism.
Nicole Knicely is the VP of Strategic Partnerships & Family Advising for Apex Social Group and a proud mother of two adulting boys (one neurodiverse) with experience as an entrepreneur, business owner and consultant. She has found her true calling at Apex Social Group, where she has been a valued member for nearly two years. Her passion lies in working with an organization that has a strong service mission to empower families and make a positive impact in the world. She resides in Texas with her husband and two sons.
Viktoria Scott is the Assistant Director of Educational & Therapeutic Resources at Apex Social Group. She holds a BSc in Health Studies – Occupational Therapy, and was at one point an Apex Care Professional herself. She is also a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) and currently pursuing her MA in Psychology/Applied Behavior Analysis. She plans to pursue an international certification as a Behavior Analyst and has extensive experience in the area of special needs. She is from Austria and lives in the greater D.C. area with her husband and 5 huskies.
Since 2008, Apex Social Group has been dedicated to providing a unique live-in childcare solution that fosters development and unlocks the full potential of every child. With a specialized focus on assisting families with special needs, Apex Social Group offers tailored support and guidance, along with an exceptional pool of candidates. Their expertise in this field has solidified their reputation as a trusted resource for families seeking high-quality care.