Challenging Behaviors of children with ASD

Updated: Jul 5



Challenging Behavior – Decoded!


According to Dr L Williams, Pennsylvania State University, recent research with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) concluded that "there were very strong feelings that communication equals behaviour, and if we increase a person's communication skills, that will decrease his/her behavioural problems"


Behavioural problems or challenging behaviours in children diagnosed with ASD usually refer to those behaviours which are likely to cause significant harm or disruption to self or others. Some common concerns seen among children diagnosed with ASD could be:

· Refusal or ignoring what is being asked

· Socially inappropriate behaviour – like shouting or screaming, spitting in a public place

· Aggressive behaviour towards others – like hitting

· Self-stimulatory behaviour like rocking or hand flicking

· Hurting oneself or others like head banging or biting.

· Restricted and repetitive behaviours.

· Destruction of property


Understanding the cause of behaviour: To most people around the child diagnosed with ASD, the inappropriate behaviour manifestation would seem purposeless and without any reason. This is a huge misconception. Each and every behaviour has a function. Through their actions, children would be trying to communicate their thoughts and feelings. Not being able to get across their wants and needs can lead to frustration and anxiety which would affect their behaviour. There can be innumerable reasons for this behaviour. The key to decrease the problematic behaviours is to understand the root cause leading to these behaviours and addressing them.


Some common triggers for the inappropriate behaviours in children diagnosed with ASD could be:


1. Routines – A child diagnosed with ASD seeks predictable and same routine. They may get very anxious and upset if their familiar routine is broken. Like the place they would sit and eat food, the time they would go for their therapy session or the route they would take every day to go to school or park.


2. Transitions: It not at all easy for a child diagnosed with ASD to move from one activity to next one without feeling any amount of discomfort. The extent of this discomfort can range from taking few minutes to adjust, to a complete emotional breakdown especially if the change is from a preferred to a non-preferred activity. The only way to get a smooth transition is to prepare the child for the upcoming change in activity.


3. Sensory sensitivity: A child diagnosed with ASD can precisely like a particular touch or sound or smell and can be completely aversive to some others. This a unique characteristic which differs from child to child. A lot of times parents are not able to understand and not relate to this aspect because of which the child could be getting subjected to the sound, smell or touch repeatedly which could be making him/her uncomfortable and anxious.


4. Sensory overload: A predictable and a structured daily routine is what a child diagnosed with ASD requires. From the comfortable predictable environment the child is taken into a surrounding where too many unfamiliar noise, smell and people are present (like a mall or market), this overload can make the child anxious resulting in challenging behaviour. The child could be getting sensitive with too much happening around or some particular noise or smell coming his/her way.


5. Unrealistic expectations: A child who comes under the Spectrum is still a child. Like other children, he/she is also learning and growing. Due to the developmental delays present there is a likelihood that the learning multiple age appropriate skills would be impacted. If the child is expected and forced to do things which in accordance to his/her development would be beyond the skill set, it would lead to frustration resulting aggressive behaviour.


6. Physical aliment: Language skills can be hugely impacted in a child diagnosed with ASD. Due to this delay children coming under the Spectrum are not able to articulate their thoughts and feelings appropriately. A lot of times they get hurt or suffer from a physical discomfort like a stomach ache and they are unable to tell their parents. The pain of the physical discomfort can manifest in challenging behaviours like screaming and shouting.


7. Off day: However much it may be required, a normal day of a child diagnosed with ASD is very different from other same age children. The child day would have sometimes multiple therapy session where he/she is continuously being subjected to things which are nowhere near his/her comfort zone. After coming home, he/she would be expected to repeat and rehearse what has been taught in the therapy session. The child can also feel the pressure and can just have an off day!


It is important to remember that to change the child’s behaviour, parents have to observe, understand and learn what is causing this behaviour. This would help both the child and parents to figure out ways to eliminate the negative triggers and support learning of appropriate behaviours.


Written By: -

Isha Singh - Clinical Psychologist

Director - Clinical Services, Ananya Child Development Centre.

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