It is quite common for children on the Autism Spectrum to demonstrate challenging behavior, some more than others. The range of challenging behavior is quite widespread and includes being aggressive, self-harming or to others, and tantrums also referred to as “meltdowns”. We need to understand that challenging behavior occurs due to an underlying cause.
These are some of the reasons that trigger challenging behavior in children:
· Difficulty in communicating their needs and requirements. This happens for those who are nonverbal. This inability to communicate leads to frustration. Frustration builds up and comes out in non-desirable ways.
· The child is stressed, upset, or anxious with the environment, activity, or even a person. Any of these can be a trigger or an outburst.
· They are overwhelmed with what is happening around them. It could be sensory overload thanks to being in a crowded plaza, a mall with loud noises, or a party with many people and buzz.
· Their routine is disrupted. Children on the spectrum thrive on a daily routine. Any deviations (big or small) can throw them off-balance. This leads to stress or anger resulting in maladaptive behavior.
· Tired. With sleep being a cause of concern for some kids, tiredness can lead to irritability, etc. that can manifest itself in unwanted behavior.
· Lack of transition time between two activities. Children with ASD need some downtime between two tasks or activities. If this does not happen, then in some children it results in maladaptive behavior.
· Unrealistic expectations. Frustration in doing tasks that they are not prepared for by honing their skills. For example, tying shoelaces or getting dressed to go to school.
Here is how to handle challenging behavior:
· Identify the triggers that lead to maladaptive behaviors. This needs some observation on the part of the family members/caregivers. Make notes that will help in the analysis.
· Stick to the daily routine. Avoid making changes to their daily routine. If it is inevitable for any urgent reason or short period, then prepare the child. Don’t expect them to understand and deal with it.
· Communication. It's important to communicate as clearly and simply as you can whether verbally or using picture cards/social stories. This is to be borne in mind for anything and everything that concerns the child even remotely.
· Down time between two tasks or activities. It's advisable that the child gets free time between two activities and is communicated the same verbally such as “we will now stop
coloring the books and will move to playing in the yard shortly”. This could be 5-10 minutes before the changeover. This applies in all situations.
· Gradually get them to become comfortable in challenging situations or environments. This could mean making short trips to the mall or the pharmacy. Short-duration social interactions or events. Build up over time.
· Be prepared for unwanted situations. Always be alert. Look out for first signs of stress or anxiety. Step in before it builds up. It could mean removing the child from the trigger, leading them to a calm place, and letting them settle down. Carry their favorite toys or sensory tools that help them to calm down.
· Reinforce positive behavior. It always works. The child will realize that good/productive or positive behaviors are welcome and rewarded. Reward can be in the form of edible treats, favorite games, toys, or even activities that they relish. This is a pillar of ABA therapy.