Fact sheet: information on challenging behavior in a child with Autism, a common Autism Spectrum Disorder


Attitude is the first place to focus when supporting people with challenging behavior. Facing tantrums, threats, screaming, emotional outbursts and inappropriate behavior can be frustrating, emotionally demanding and lead to many negative feelings which can influence how we interact with the child.


However a positive attitude is the foundation upon which other supports are built. A positive attitude by parents, family members, teachers and therapists can either make or break a support plan for a person with autism, Asperger's syndrome or other developmental disorder. Sometimes even the best behavior support plans can be jeopardized by negative attitudes. A negative attitude can stop a person (even subconsciously) from carrying out the plan in a genuine and enthusiastic manner.


Sometimes it does seem almost impossible to keep positive thoughts in the face of persistent and intense behavior, such as anger, aggression, or destruction. Despite this we need to remain focused and remember that we are here to support these individuals and encourage them to improve themselves and their opportunities in life.


Ways to Stay Positive

Concentrate on the positives, not the negatives

Try to look at the person’s abilities rather than the effects of autism or Asperger's syndrome. Everyone has strengths and is capable of learning new skills. To do this you will need to separate the behavior from the individual. The behavior may be undesirable or even offensive, but it is only one aspect of the child.


Stay objective and take control over your emotions

Try to remain objective in your responses. Attitude is not something that happens to you, it is something you choose, whether you are a parent, therapist or school teacher. A bad mood is no excuse for a poor attitude towards a person displaying challenging behaviors. Try to take ownership and control of your emotions. Emotions come from how people think about the behavior, not the behavior itself.


Choose how you respond to behaviors

The way you think about the behavior and the child will shape the way you respond. If you see the behavior as manipulative and a deliberate attempt to upset you personally, then your response is going to be one filled with emotion and clouded objectivity. If you think that the behavior may be an attempt to communicate a need, or a sign of frustration and confusion, you can choose to respond differently. Choosing to think in this manner does not mean that the behavior is acceptable and so you don't need to respond. It just allows you to depersonalize the situation and change the way you respond.


See the world through their eyes

Understanding the situation from the individual’s perspective can increase your understanding and empathy. All behavior has a purpose – it may be the person’s way of expressing something, or it may be their only way of exerting some control over their life. Read as much as you can about autism, Asperger's syndrome and other Autism Spectrum Disorders, to understand what the world is like through their eyes. Read the story Let me tell you about my autism.


Research, evaluate and try various strategies

Be open-minded about what works or is worth investigating. It is often a combination of various strategies and sensible ideas that begin to lift the pressure when struggling to establish a balance between the needs of all involved. Even if some strategies have been tried before, they may succeed this time round, with different people or a more consistent approach.


Support groups

There are many support groups for parents of children with autism and related disorders. Being able to share the anguish, joys and tribulations can be a huge source of support, especially when dealing with challenging behaviors. Contact your local autism or Asperger's Association to see if there's a group in your area. If not, you can link up with others over the Internet through forums.


Focus on the outcomes

Focus on the outcomes. Try to think about what you are really trying to achieve for the person concerned. Try to focus on the outcomes or goals of the positive approach. Measure the progress, even if small, it is still an achievement by all involved. Take the time to praise yourself for the effort and acknowledge the progress.


It won't happen overnight...

Remember that change is slow. There are no ‘magic answers’, regardless of whether a child has autism or not. Try to use your common sense, and consider whether the individual needs to change or whether someone else around them needs to change.


reducing your stress levels

There are a number of small things that you may be able to do in order to reduce your stress levels and hence maintain a positive focus:

• Give yourself permission to ask for help
• Have problem- solving sessions with other parents
• Organize your own group discussion time to debrief and talk about your emotions and experiences
• Remember exercise helps to counter the effects of stress
• Practice cognitive methods such as positive self-talk, to get yourself through the difficult times
• Develop your own reaction plan and emotional management plan for when you become stressed.
• Formal training in stress management or relaxation skills is also beneficial.


Click here to read about self-care strategies for parents.


Click to shut this Autism fact sheet on challenging behavior

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Attitude is the first place to focus when supporting a child with Autism or Asperger's syndrome who displays challenging behaviour. Facing tantrums, threats, screaming, emtional outbursts and inappropriate behavior can be frustrating, emotionally demanding and lead to many negative feelings which can influence how we interact with a child on the autism spectrum.