Children who have been diagnosed with autism are much less likely to intentionally misbehave than typical children. The “apparent” bad behaviors of children on the autism spectrum, such as whacking a peer, climbing on furniture, bolting from the room, are typically the result of external issues that can easily be solved when parents are cool, calm, and creative. Following are a few tips for managing and understanding your child’s autistic behaviors that can lead to a much calmer family life.
- First of all, you must know your own child. There are very few children with ASD that are “bad” on purpose. On the other hand, many of them do have difficult-to-deal-with behaviors. So, what does this mean? Every child is different and you must know your own child in order to take action. For example, is your child hypersensitive to light and/or sound? Does he/she crave lots of sensory input? Is he/she in need of some extra personal space? The more you understand about your child, the easier it will be to get through a difficult situation.
- Modify expectations you have for your child. When you were a child, it’s possible that your mother may have expected you to sit through dinner for a full hour. However, if you have a child with ASD, you must understand that this is not a reasonable expectation. Instead, start with smaller goals- such as sit still for three minutes, eat with a fork, or whatever you feel that he/she can handle. Then, slowly and carefully build up toward sitting through a full mealtime.
- Make modifications to the environment. When it comes to children, safety is key and creating a safe environment for a child who is autistic can be a challenge. Due to the fact that so many of the child’s actions are potentially dangerous, you must do things such as bolt shelves to the floor and walls, install a deadbolt on your front door, and even securely latch your cabinets shut.
- Think about what could be triggering your child’s behaviors. There are many children who have ASD that crave sensory input and even over-respond to it. Then, there are those that alternate between these two extremes. Typically, what we see as “bad” behavior is simply a reaction to having too much or not enough sensory input. If you can carefully observe your child, you can find out what is triggering the behaviors and get them under control.
- Get rid of sensory input that is overwhelming. If your child tends to over-react to specific sensory input, there are many ways you can change this situation. The first option, of course, is to avoid those situations that are overwhelming to him/her. However, since that is not always an option, consider getting some sensory toys to distract your child, ear plugs to block out sound, and other things that you think your child will respond to.
- Offer your child sensory input. If you notice that your child is climbing walls, spinning in circles, and crashing into couches, he/she is most likely craving some sensory input. There is a variety of ways that you can provide this for him/her. Some people recommend giving bear hugs, rolling the child up like a hot dog in a blanket, or even providing them with weighted blankets, vests, etc.
Most of all, when you have a child who has ASD, you must remember to always stay calm and carry on. Sure, it can be easy to become embarrassed, frightened, and upset by your child’s behaviors- but, when you can stay supportive, relaxed, and calm you can turn an anxious experience into a positive one for both you and your child.