TREATMENT TIPS: A BRIEF
OF COMMON PROBLEMS AND FIXES
Written by Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D.
Center for the Study of Autism, Salem, Oregon
When I speak to parents and professionals on treating
I typically say up front that there are no easy and quick fixes
to reduce or eliminate severe behavioral problems, which include:
and destructiveness. There may be, however, a few fixes that may
not require an incredible amount of time and effort to implement.
I have listed several suggestions below.
1.) Occasionally a child may exhibit a behavior
problem at school but not at home, or vice versa. For example, the
parent may have already developed a strategy to stop the behavior
at home, but the teacher is unaware of this strategy. It is important
that the parent and teacher discuss the child's behavioral problems
since one of them may have already discovered a solution to handle
2.) If the child's behavior is worse at school
but not at home, there are many possible reasons, such as a lack
of consistency. There are, however, several physical causes that
should be considered. Two possible causes, which are seldom considered,
are cleaning solvents and florescent classroom lighting. Janitors
often use powerful chemicals to clean the classroom. Although the
smell may be gone by the next day, the chemical residue may still
be in the air and on surfaces. Breathing these chemicals may affect
sensitive people. During the day students often place their hands
and face on the tables and floors, and these chemicals can eventually
wind up in the child's mouth and alter brain functioning and behavior.
Many parents and teachers wipe the students’ desks with water or
a natural cleaning solution prior to class each morning, and they
have reported rather remarkable improvements in the students’ behaviors.
Florescent lighting, which is the most common
lighting used in classrooms, may also affect behavior. Many adults
with autism report that florescent lights bothered them greatly
during their school years. In addition, U.C.L.A. researchers observed
more repetitive, self-stimulatory behaviors under florescent lighting
compared to incandescent lighting. Teachers may want to turn off
the florescent lighting in their classroom for a few days to see
if there is a decrease in behavioral problems for some or all of
the students. During this trial period, the teacher can use natural
light from the windows and/or incandescent lights.
3.) Behavioral problems may also be due to difficulties
in expressive language. In fact, many researchers feel strongly
that the majority of behavioral problems are simply due to poor
skills. There are numerous communication strategies, such as
Exchange Communication System and Simultaneous Communication
(using speech and sign language at the same time) which can be used
to teach expressive communication skills.
4.) Another possible reason for behavioral problems
may be difficulties in receptive language. Autistic individuals
often have poor auditory
processing skills. As a result, they often do not understand
what people are saying to them (i.e., they hear the words but they
do not understand what the words mean). The person’s lack of understanding
can lead to confusion and frustration, which can escalate into behavior
communication systems can be useful in teaching and in informing
individuals of what is planned and what is expected of them.
5.) It is also important to consider the person’s
level of arousal level when formulating a strategy to treat behavioral
problems. Sometimes behavioral problems occur when the person is
over-excited. This can occur when the person is anxious and/or when
there is too much stimulation in the environment. In these cases,
treatment should be aimed at calming the person. Some popular calming
techniques include: vigorous exercise (e.g., a stationary bicycle)
which would act as a release of their high excitement level, vestibular
stimulation (e.g., slow swinging), and deep pressure (e.g., Temple
In some cases, behavioral problems may be due
to a low level of arousal such as when the person is passive or
bored. Behaviors such as aggression and destructiveness may be exciting,
and thus appealing, to some of these individuals. If one suspects
behavior problems are due to underarousal, the person should be
kept busy or active. Vigorous
exercise is another good way to increase arousal level.
allergies are an often overlooked cause of behavior problems.
Some individuals may have red ears, red cheeks, or dark circles
under their eyes. These are often signs of food allergies. The most
common allergens are dairy and wheat products, food preservatives,
and food coloring. Some of the symptoms associated with food allergies
are headaches, tantrums, feelings of nausea or spaciness, and stomach
aches. As a result, the child is less tolerant of others; and he/she
may be more likely to strike out at others, tantrum, or act out.
Since many of these individuals have poor communication skills,
the parent and/or teacher may not be aware that the child is not
feeling well. The child should be tested if food allergies are suspected;
and if the child tests positive for certain foods, then these products
should be eliminated from his/her diet.
7.) Many families are giving their children safe
nutritional supplements, such as Vitamin
B6 with magnesium and Di-methyl-glycine (DMG). Nearly half have
reported a reduction in behavioral problems as well as improvements
in the child's general well-being. Sometimes powerful drugs
are prescribed to autistic individuals to treat their behavior.
Interestingly, the most commonly prescribed drug for autistic children
is Ritalin. A survey conducted by the Autism Research Institute
in San Diego revealed that 45% of 2,788 parents felt that Ritalin
made their child's behavior worse and only 20% reported improvement
(27% of parents of autistic children felt that Ritalin made no difference).
8.) In many instances, a behavior problem is a
reaction to a request or demand made by a caregiver/teacher. The
individual may have learned that he/she can escape or avoid such
situations, such as working on a task, by ‘acting up.’ A functional
assessment of the person’s behavior (i.e., antecedents, consequences,
context of the behavior) may reveal certain relationships between
the behavior and the function the behavior serves. If avoidance
is the function the behavior serves, the caregiver/teacher should
follow through with all requests and demands he/she makes to the
person. If the person is able to escape or avoid such situations,
even only some of the time, the behavior problem will likely continue.
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