Support strategies for managing behaviour in children with autism

Upset child
  • Date published:

  • Author: oliverkyle

There are many factors that affect the behaviour of an autistic child.

For example, the child could be:

  • trying to communicate their confusion, anxiety or frustration
  • experiencing sensory overload or difficulty in processing sensory information
  • responding to activities/experiences which are under or over stimulating
  • exerting control over their environment/situation/context
  • unsettled by disruption to routines

In any of these instances, one of the most important things you can do to support is to listen to them.

Tips for managing behaviour

As well as listening closely to your child, there are some other things you can do to help manage their behaviour:

  1. Be patient and realistic when setting goals
  2. Be consistent, and make sure you communicate with family and friends so you are all giving the same message
  3. Consider the environment and the impact it might be having on your child’s senses. Some children with autism can find certain environments and situations overwhelming. The sound of the setting might be too loud or too high pitched, while others might not be able to manage some tastes or food textures, or find that someone touching them in a crowded space, even lightly, can be too much
  4. Use praise and reward, rather than punishment- Many children with autism don’t understand the connection between their behaviour and punishment. If your child is being punished but doesn’t understand what they’ve done, this won’t help them to learn from the experience. Try to give praise and rewards immediately, and in a way that will mean something to your child. Some children like verbal praise; others might prefer to get another kind of reward, like a sticker or a star chart, or a set period of time playing a computer game or watching a DVD
  5. Manage change and transition times- A number of children with autism find it difficult to adapt to changes. These could be simple changes such as going a different route to school due to traffic or changes in clothes due to the weather. It’s important to explain changes well. Some changes can be bigger and more permanent, such moving house, so these will need to be explained in more detail.

Upset child

Bullying and autism

Unfortunately, children with autism are more vulnerable to bullying as other children don’t understand why they are behaving in a certain way. Bullying can cause feelings of depression and anxiety, and your child may find it hard to be able to express themselves and explain what’s happening to them, or even realise that they are being bullied.

Children with autism often find it hard to read facial expressions and body language. They therefore can’t tell when someone is being friendly or if they are trying to hurt them. This means they may misunderstand the intentions of their peers.

As a result, you may need to look for other clues to find out if your child is being bullied.

For example, they might:

  • Come home with dirty, damaged or missing clothes, bags or books, with bruises or scratches, without money they should have or are asking for more money the next day
  • Arrive at school or get home late because they have changed their route to or from school
  • Be reluctant to go to school and make excuses to avoid going
  • Seem to be stressed, depressed, unhappy or unwell
  • Show a deterioration in concentration or the standard of school work
  • Show an increase or change in obsessional/repetitive behaviour.

If you see a change in your child’s behaviour, offer a safe space and time out where they can calm themselves down. Some children with autism engage well with sensory objects, but it’s important to know what works for your child.

Whatever their preferred method of relaxation, whether it be playing with sensory objects, listening to music or colouring in, try to build this into their daily routine so they always have that time to calm down and relax.