Autism Behavior Strategies

Discover effective autism behavior strategies to empower lives. Understand, manage and transform behavior.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
April 25, 2024
9 min read
min read

Understanding Autism Behavior

Autism behavior encompasses a wide range of behaviors exhibited by individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These behaviors are influenced by various factors and can greatly impact the person's life. Understanding these behaviors and their influences can aid in implementing effective autism behavior strategies.

Impact of Autism on Behavior

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) impacts an estimated 1 in 54 U.S. children, causing a wide array of symptoms that affect behavior and communication [1]. These symptoms can include social withdrawal, echolalia (repetitive speech), and difficulty interpreting body language or nonverbal cues.

These behavioral symptoms can result in individuals with autism experiencing challenges in social interactions, communication, and routine activities. For example, echolalia could lead to difficulty in having meaningful dialogues, while the inability to interpret non-verbal cues could result in misunderstandings in social settings.

Factors Influencing Behavior

There are several factors that influence the behavior of individuals with autism. One significant factor is sensory sensitivity. According to Autism Speaks, sensory issues are common in people with autism and are even included in the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder.

Autistic individuals can experience both hypersensitivity (over-responsiveness) and hyposensitivity (under-responsiveness) to various stimuli, often exhibiting a combination of both. These sensory sensitivities can influence their behavior in significant ways. For instance, hypersensitivity could lead to avoidance behaviors, while hyposensitivity could result in sensory seeking behaviors.

Sensory seeking behaviors are actions that autistic individuals often engage in to balance their sensory systems. These can include stimming through repetitive movements, sounds, or fidgeting to stay calm, relieve stress, or block out uncomfortable sensory input.

Furthermore, sensory overload can occur in autistic individuals when intense sensory stimuli overwhelm their coping abilities, leading to feelings of anxiety, a need to escape, or difficulty in communication as the brain focuses entirely on sensory processing [2].

By understanding the different factors that influence autism behavior, it is possible to devise effective strategies to manage these behaviors and improve the quality of life for individuals with autism.

Evidence-Based Behavior Strategies

When dealing with autism, it's crucial to use strategies that are backed by evidence and research. Evidence-based behavior strategies provide the best chance of improving outcomes for individuals with autism.

Importance of Evidence-Based Practices

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA '04) mandate that educators use evidence-based academic and behavioral practices and programs for children with autism. These practices are not simply well-intentioned ideas or methods, but are backed by research and have been shown to be effective in improving outcomes for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) [3].

The National Professional Development Center (NPDC) on Autism Spectrum Disorder has identified 27 evidence-based practices (EBPs) for improving outcomes for students with ASD. These practices include strategies for teaching new skills and reducing challenging behaviors.

Implementing Evidence-Based Practices

Implementing evidence-based practices involves careful planning and consideration. Educators and practitioners should determine the target behavior they want to change, collect baseline data on the behavior before implementing a strategy or intervention, and indicate the goal in the child's individualized education program (IEP) or individualized family service plan (IFSP) [3].

Moreover, educators should consider the match between the evidence-based practice (EBP) and the student, the staff's expertise and training, and the available resources when selecting an EBP to implement. Ensuring these factors are in alignment can increase the chances of successful implementation and positive outcomes.

Evaluating Effectiveness

After implementing an EBP, it's essential to evaluate its effectiveness. This involves collecting data on the behavior to determine if the strategy or intervention is achieving the desired results. Data collection can include direct observation, interviews, and review of records and work samples.

In addition to evaluating the impact on the target behavior, it's also important to determine if the EBP was implemented with fidelity. This involves assessing whether the practice was delivered as intended and consistent with the research findings that support its effectiveness.

Through careful implementation and evaluation of evidence-based autism behavior strategies, educators and practitioners can help individuals with autism achieve their full potential. It's a process that requires ongoing commitment and adaptation, yet it's one that can lead to transformative outcomes.

Managing Challenging Behaviors

When dealing with autism, understanding and managing challenging behaviors can be a significant part of the journey. It involves recognizing signs of tension, making environmental adaptations, and implementing specific strategies, such as toilet training.

Recognizing Signs of Tension

Recognizing the signs of increasing tension, anxiety, or frustration that lead to challenging behaviors is crucial in managing autism. By tuning in early to these signs, caregivers can use various approaches to help prevent behavioral outbursts. This proactive approach can dramatically reduce the frequency and intensity of challenging behaviors, significantly improving the quality of life for both the individual with autism and their caregivers.

Signs of tension may include:

  • Increased agitation
  • Rapid breathing
  • Pacing or other repetitive behaviors
  • Withdrawal or avoidance
  • Verbal outbursts

These signs should be treated as communication signals, indicating that the individual is experiencing discomfort or distress. By recognizing and responding to these signals promptly, caregivers can help prevent a full-blown behavioral outburst.

Environmental Adaptations

Changing the environment can often reduce challenging behaviors in individuals with autism. Adjusting or avoiding triggers, incorporating ways to reduce frustration and anxiety, and increasing overall understanding can contribute to creating a more successful environment.

Environmental adaptations may include:

  • Reducing exposure to sensory triggers, such as loud noises or bright lights
  • Providing clear and consistent routines
  • Using visual aids to improve understanding
  • Creating a calm and quiet space for the individual to retreat to when needed

Each of these strategies can be tailored to the specific needs and preferences of the individual with autism, helping to create an environment that supports their well-being and reduces the occurrence of challenging behaviors.

Toilet Training Strategies

For children with autism, barriers in toilet training may be associated with the condition of the bathroom. It is important to create a neutral space that is warm, with ample room around the toilet to avoid confinement. Addressing sensory factors like temperature, lighting, and overall comfort can encourage individuals with ASD to use the toilet in a friendly environment [4].

Effective toilet training strategies can include:

  • Using visual schedules to establish a routine
  • Providing positive reinforcement for successful attempts
  • Gradually increasing the time spent on the toilet
  • Addressing any fears or anxieties related to toilet training

By understanding and addressing the specific challenges faced by individuals with autism, caregivers can implement effective autism behavior strategies, transforming lives and empowering those on the autism spectrum to reach their full potential.

Behavioral Therapy Approaches

One of the most effective ways to support individuals with autism is through behavioral therapy. These approaches are designed to help individuals manage and modify behaviors, particularly those that may hinder social interactions or disrupt learning. In this section, we will discuss three key autism behavior strategies: Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Relationship Development Intervention (RDI), and Sensory Integration Therapy.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a widely used therapeutic approach for children with autism. This method aims to help individuals manage and modify behaviors to overcome social challenges and avoid disruptions to learning. ABA therapy can be tailored to meet the unique needs of each individual, with experts recommending children with ASD receive 20 to 40 hours of therapy per week [1].

Therapists can pursue various ABA certifications, such as becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or earning an Autism Certificate (AC). These certifications prepare educators and healthcare professionals to work effectively with children who have ASD.

Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)

Another key strategy in autism behavior management is Relationship Development Intervention (RDI). This form of behavioral therapy emphasizes social behaviors for children with ASD. It focuses on goals that are set by a therapist and worked on by the child's family, with consistent feedback and communication with the therapist.

RDI therapy can support individuals in mastering essential social and emotional skills, such as empathy, communication, and problem-solving. By fostering these skills, RDI can help individuals with ASD form meaningful relationships with others.

Sensory Integration Therapy

Finally, Sensory Integration Therapy is used to address hypersensitivity issues common among children with ASD. It involves slowly introducing the child to increasingly intense stimuli, without force, to help them cope with sensory challenges [1].

Sensory issues are common in people with autism and are even included in the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder. Each individual with autism is unique, and this includes their personal sensory sensitivities.

By understanding and implementing these behavioral therapy approaches, parents, caregivers, and professionals can better support individuals with autism in managing their behaviors and improving their quality of life.

Sensory Sensitivities in Autism

Sensory issues are common in people with autism and have a significant influence on their behavior. Understanding these sensitivities can offer new insights into autism behavior strategies and improve the quality of life for those on the autism spectrum.

Understanding Sensory Sensitivities

Sensory sensitivities are often seen in individuals with autism and are even included in the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder. Autistic individuals can experience a unique blend of sensory sensitivities, each exhibiting their own unique set of responses to different stimuli Autism Speaks. Sensory overload can occur when the intensity of sensory stimuli overwhelms their coping abilities, leading to feelings of anxiety or a need to escape Autism Speaks. Understanding and accommodating sensory issues can enhance the autistic individual's ability to learn, socialize, and participate in community activities Autism Speaks.

Hyposensitivity and Hypersensitivity

Autistic individuals may experience both hypersensitivity (over-responsiveness) and hyposensitivity (under-responsiveness) to various stimuli Autism Speaks. For example, oversensitive individuals might express distress by crying or avoiding sensory experiences when exposed to uncomfortable stimuli such as bright lights or loud sounds Raising Children Network. On the other hand, undersensitive individuals might seek out sensory experiences, such as touching different textures or enjoying strongly flavored foods, and might not notice strong odors or respond appropriately to pain Raising Children Network.

Sensory Seeking Behaviors

Autistic people often engage in sensory seeking behaviors to balance their sensory systems. These actions, such as stimming through repetitive movements, sounds, or fidgeting, are employed to remain calm, relieve stress, or block out uncomfortable sensory input Autism Speaks. These sensory sensitivities can impact the whole family, affecting activities, energy levels, and experiences at school Raising Children Network. Therefore, seeking professional advice from pediatricians, psychologists, or other specialists can be beneficial in understanding and developing strategies to support these behaviors Raising Children Network.

By understanding and addressing sensory sensitivities in autism, we can devise more effective autism behavior strategies. This offers the opportunity to transform lives by enabling those on the autism spectrum to participate fully and comfortably in their everyday activities.

Behavioral Challenges and Solutions

In the journey of managing autism, understanding and addressing behavioral challenges is a crucial aspect. This segment will discuss the issues of physical aggression and self-injury, medication for behavior management, and other treatment and support options.

Physical Aggression and Self-Injury

Autism behavior strategies often need to address physical aggression and self-injury. According to the Autism Research Institute, approximately 59% of individuals with autism engage in self-injury, aggression, and/or destructiveness at some point in their lifetime. A recent study also found that 44% of children diagnosed with autism engaging in self-injurious behaviors exhibited the same behaviors a decade later. These persistent behaviors can become more severe with age and impact the quality of life for individuals and their caretakers or parents. Some challenging behaviors in individuals with autism can originate from underlying genetic conditions and comorbidities.

Medication for Behavior Management

Medication is often considered as part of the comprehensive plan for autism behavior management. While the decision to use medication should always be made in consultation with a healthcare provider, certain medications have been found to be effective in helping kids and teens with autism to be less irritable and aggressive. For example, Risperidone and Aripiprazole are often used to manage aggression.

However, it's crucial to note that these medications can lead to weight gain. In such cases, Metformin may help in managing weight when taking medication for aggression. It's essential to monitor the individual's weight and overall health while on these medications.

Treatments and Support Options

In addition to medication, there are other treatments and support options available for managing behavioral challenges in autism. Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is one such strategy that has proven to be effective in many cases. Counseling can also be a significant support, providing individuals with autism and their families the tools to understand and manage behaviors [5].

These strategies not only improve the well-being of the individual with autism but also enhance the quality of life for the whole family. Parents of children with autism who have significant behavior problems often struggle with feeling good about being a parent and having friends.

The approach to managing behavioral challenges in autism is a multifaceted one, encompassing a range of strategies. The key is to customize these strategies to the individual's needs, ensuring that they lead to the best possible outcomes.







steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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