Some people with autism can display challenging behavior. It includes what would normally be considered physically aggressive behavior, but can also include other behaviors if they are having a negative impact on the person or their family. Below we give some general ideas on strategies to try, and information on getting support. We also have specific information about the possible reasons for, and suggest strategies to address:
* self-injurious behavior
* physical challenging behavior such as biting, spitting, hitting and hair pulling
* pica (eating or mouthing non-edible items)
Behavior has a function, and there could be a number of reasons for it. These may include difficulty in processing information, unstructured time, over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to sensory stimuli, a change in routine, transition between activities, or physical reasons like feeling unwell, tired or hungry. Not being able to communicate these difficulties can lead to anxiety, anger and frustration, and then to an outburst of challenging behavior.
Completing a behavior diary, which records what is occurring before, during and after the behavior, could help you to understand its purpose. It is important to make notes on the environment, including who was there, any change in the environment and how the person was feeling. A diary may be completed over a couple of weeks or longer if needed.
Be consistent in your approach to the behavior, and ask others around the person to use the same consistent approach.
Speak clearly and precisely using short sentences. By limiting your communication, the person is less likely to feel overloaded by information and more likely to be able to process what you say. Support the person to communicate their wants, needs and physical pain or discomfort, such as by using visual supports.
Using rewards and motivators can help to encourage a particular behavior. Even if the behavior or task is very short, if it is followed by lots of praise and a reward, the person can learn that the behavior is acceptable.
Look at anger/emotions management and create opportunities for relaxation. You can do this by, for example, looking at bubble lamps, smelling essential oils, listening to music, massages, or swinging on a swing. Challenging behavior can often be diffused by an activity that releases energy or pent-up anger or anxiety. This might be punching a punch bag, bouncing on a trampoline or running around the garden.