Every child is different. They have different food preferences, different playing methods, different personalities, they also all have different behaviors and reactions. One thing for sure that is the same with kiddos is that if we treat them all in a particular way, we can target those positive behaviors more often.
Behaviors can be a big part of an autism diagnosis and at times they can be the most challenging. Some individuals with autism have harder more challenging behaviors more frequently than others.
In addition to ABA therapy as the primary means to address behavior issues among children on the autism spectrum, Autism Speaks has come up with a comprehensive list of strategies to use with your children to help promote more positive behaviors. These simple strategies can help you increase the positive behaviors and reduce some more challenging behaviors. As said before each child is different so the strategies, I am about to talk about will have to be individualized to your child.
- Celebrate and build strengths and successes: Let your kiddo know what they are doing well and things that you like them to do. A lot of times when you provide a sense of confidence it will result in interest and motivation to do it again. Give loads of positive feedback as often as you can and try and decrease the amount of negative or corrective feedback. For example, when your child picks up their toys say things like “Awesome job putting your toys back in your toy bin!”
- Respect and listen to them: Look into the things your child is trying to tell you. This can be challenging at times because you may have to pay more attention to actions or choices your child is making rather than it verbally being said. For example, “You keep sitting close to the heater. Are you a little cold?”
- Validate concerns and emotions: Your child’s emotions are real, and they are trying to tell you something with them. Brushing away fears or telling them not to worry does not show them you understand their concerns or feelings. Help them by using language to validate what they might be feeling. For example, maybe your child is timid around new people, “I can see that you are a little afraid right now.” Or maybe your plans changed without warning, “I can see you are upset that our plans have changed today.”
- Provide clear expectations of behavior: Show or tell your child what you are expecting of them. Great ways to do this are by using visual aids or video models.
- Set up for successes: Always have accommodations if necessary and don’t demand things from your child. Examples of setting up for success could be, providing slip on shoes instead of laces, cups with lids to prevent spilling, clothes without zippers or buttons be able to dress themselves.
- Ignore challenging behaviors: This can be a hard one for a parent but is important to not show your child that negative behaviors are a way for them to communicate or to win in a situation. Doing this can be very effective even though it is going to take some major will power at times for you as their parent/ caregiver. Stay strong and be consistent with this one.
- Alternate tasks: Make sure you always throw in things your child is good at and they enjoy doing, then work on something more challenging for them after.
- Teach and interact at your child’s learning level: You want to always set your kiddo up for success rather than produce anxiety and irritation towards learning new things.
- Give choices, but with parameters: It is good to let you child be partly in control of what they are working on or doing. It can be as simple as would you like to play outside first or draw pictures.
- Provide access to breaks: Provide breaks whenever your child asks to build trust with them and to give them time to regroup when they need it.
- Promote the use of a safe, calm-down space: This should always be a positive strategy and never a punishment for a child. Having them recognize when they need a place to relax is a great strategy for your child to learn.
- Set up reinforcement systems: Have a simple and predictable way to reward your child for their positive behaviors. Can be as simple as a favorite activity or even a verbal praise.
- Allow times and places for your child to do what they want: It is important to give your child times when they can do what they want to do. This gives your child some independence.
- Reward flexibility and self-control: For example, “I know we had planned on going to the park today and we were not expecting it to rain. You were so flexible with the change of plans, why don’t we go pick out a new toy to play with at home instead!”
- Pick your battles: Balance is key. Focus on behaviors that are most important. There will be times and situations when it is going to be hard, but always include positive feedback even when a behavior becomes challenging.
This is not always going to be easy and there are going to be times when giving in is way easier than following course. But be resilient, have fun, and celebrate all the great things your kiddo is doing and learning!