To speak about behavior management with any child in general is quite tricky, but we might be able to help parents and therapists a little with this blog. The most important thing when dealing with seemingly challenging behaviors is to establish if your child is acting up or acting out. What is the difference? Well, let’s paint a scenario of your typical child diagnosed with ASD:
Children who are diagnosed with ASD will receive this diagnosis due to “deficits” or areas that they struggle with, such as expressive speech (or social speech for some), interacting socially with others as well as sensory issues. These “deficits” or challenges impact their daily, normal life in a variety of ways. They have to “deal” with this for not just today or a week, but for their entire life. At AIMS Global we try and support our children by teaching them coping skills to give them control over the way they see, hear and feel the world or stimuli around them. If we notice they are sensory sensitive we try and help them to adapt to the world we live in. Some of our children struggle with everyday sounds, such as a kettle boiling and physically feel pain as they might have acute sensitivities to specific sounds. Others see a normal bedlight lamp a hundred times brighter and they feel they need to close their eyes in their own bedroom, a place where they should have peace and take a nap. Some children diagnosed with ASD do not understand abstract concepts, such as emotions and facial expressions as easily as neurotypical children. We speak to adults diagnosed with ASD often and they will explain many more instances where they found it extremely difficult just to fit in.
Some children will “act out” when they feel overwhelmed in certain situations. There is a big difference between a neurotypical child “acting up” when they can’t get their favorite toy at the very second they ask for it than a child “acting out” because he or she had to suppress an entire day of sensory input that physically hurt them as well as not receiving their favorite toy.
This is why it’s crucial to get to know your child’s sensory profile. Understand what calms him or her down and what excites them too. Providing sensory input before a child becomes overwhelmed is probably the most successful manner in helping your child. We start by creating a sensory profile, then providing this input to the child when he or she needs to either calm down or become more excited. We teach self-awareness through these different sensory states. Our main aim is always for our children to self-regulate. In doing so, they will be able to give the sensory input they need before they become sensory overwhelmed.
There is a big difference between a child having a meltdown and a child having a tantrum. All children and I might add adults, have tantrums. We can become anxious, frustrated, irritated and angry at times. During these times we seem to be able to handle everyday pressures less successfully and we “act up” by either crying, shouting, or ignoring someone in your life. Therapists of children diagnosed with ASD will usually tell parents to “ignore” challenging behaviors, which might seem to work at times.
It also teaches our children that when they are in distress, that we might actually look like we really don’t care by ignoring them, which is definitely not what we want for our children and can lead to distressed teenagers or adults.
So how do we manage our child’s “challenging” behaviors?
You first establish if your child is safe and healthy when they are crying, shouting or throwing things. If they are, you look a bit deeper and definitely follow your gut instinct here – is your child having a normal tantrum? The typical question would be: is your child just being a bit naughty? If they are, you treat them the same way you would any other child (without a diagnosis). You can tell them to calm down before they can have what they want or that they need to say sorry for hitting their brother for no reason. Your child is a child like any other child – so treat them the same in these situations.
The difference comes in when your child is actually having a meltdown. How do you recognize if your child is having a meltdown? He or she might seem flustered, sweaty and out of control. They might be reciting scripts (which is a way of self-regulation for some of our children) or shout for no reason (there is always a reason). The most important thing to do here is to comfort your child and make sure he or she is safe and can’t hurt themselves or someone else. The worst thing you can do in these situations is ignore him or her.
How do you prevent “challenging” behaviors?
You can’t really – it’s a typical reaction for all children to act up from time to time. What you can do is:
-Focus on providing enough sensory input throughout the day
-Providing adequate breaks(movement and sensory breaks)
-Making sure your expectations aren’t too high and always making sure you tell and show your child you are proud of him or her
-Anticipating difficult scenarios or environments and making provision for these – taking a “fiddle bag” when you go to noisy areas, preparing your child for any transitions, constantly gauging their level of comfort, etc.
These are but a few strategies that we highly recommend for our parents and therapists who have or work with children diagnosed with ASD. Like any child though, each one of our children are beautifully unique and we can help create a coping strategy plan for your child. Schedule a FREE Skype call with one of our Supervisors or Directors now, for more information.