Fact sheet on avoiding triggers of challenging behavior arising from Autism,  one of the pervasive developmental disorders


Applied Behavior Analysis has proven to be an effective intervention for many challenging behaviors in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Avoiding the 'triggers' of behaviors is concentrating on the antecedent part of the ABC model:
• Antecedent (what happens before a behavior)

• Behavior (the child's response to this trigger)

• Consquence (what happens because of the behavior).


Often the parent can play the role of 'behavior detective' by finding the triggers for challenging behaviors and avoiding these, or desensitizing the child to them. This is a way to avoid negative behaviors from happening in the first place.


Sensory issues

Sensory problems can be a source of many triggers. Careful observation can reveal negative responses to certain sounds, types of touch, smells, movements and tastes. There are obviously some things that can't be avoided forever. For example, if your child hates the noise of other people in a crowded supermarket, this is one trigger that will eventually have to be dealt with. Desensitization is often a useful strategy for this. The child is introduced to the situation for small periods at a time and reinforced for the growing ability to tolerate the setting for longer and longer periods of time.


Other strategies are to pair the unpleasant trigger with positive reinforcement such as a favorite toy or treat, or use social stories to model more appropriate responses. Encouraging a child to express their discomfort verbally can give them a sense of control that can decrease the need for an emotional outburst.


The desire for routine and predictability

Children on the autism spectrum vary in their ability to deal with changes in their routine and unpredictability. Anxiety in new situations can lead to challenging behaviors can be avoided by letting the child know what is appropriate behavior in that situation. When the child understands stories, social stories are a powerful tool for incorporating a new activity into a child's routine.


A wall chart is another visual strategy for this. Pictures tell the child what is going to happen during the day or week ahead. As with any behavioral strategy, the use of a wall chart is gradually faded as the child gains language skills and routines can be explained verbally.


With patience, a parent can slowly show their child that new things and unpredictability can be fun. Occasionally the child's favorite activities can be introduced without warning so that disruptions to the routine are seen as positive. If children are anxious about changes to routine, encouraging them to express their discomfort verbally can give them a sense of control over the situation.


Reading subtext & non-verbal messages in social interaction

Children on the autism spectrum usually have trouble understanding non-verbal communication through body posture and facial expressions, and the subtext of social interaction. This can lead to inappropriate responses and the child needs to be directly taught the correct responses. Social stories can be helpful in teaching these skills if the child’s language is at a point where he cannot understand verbal explanations.


The child can also misread social interaction by not watching the other person closely. Although eye contact is frequently uncomfortable for a child with autism or Asperger's syndrome, encourage the child to watch the other person's eyes and gestures to understand the messages conveyed.


Clear expectations

Children on the autism spectrum may not understand what is expected of them in a certain situation. If neurotypical children are unsure on what to do, they will pick up cues from the kids around them, or ask an adult what they’re supposed to do. A child on the autism spectrum usually has trouble with imitating their peers or asking adults for clarification. Parents can give clear expectations in a way the child understands to minimize the anxiety that coudl lead to challenging behavior. In addition, strategies such as social stories can be used to teach the child how to imitate peers and ask adults for direction.


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This autism fact sheet is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation. It is derivative of an autism and Asperger's syndrome-related articles at http://en.wikipedia.org

Advice for parents on better behaviors by minimizing the triggers that may set off a child on the autism spectrum