Mother hugging son, smiling

Managing Behavior at Home

By: Becky Anderson

Families who have children on the Autism Spectrum may be challenged with managing their child’s behaviors at home. These behaviors might include tantrums, aggression, and/or meltdowns. Behavior is often a form of communication and most typically serves a function. The first step in attempting to eliminate or decrease the behavior is to examine the function of the behavior.

The function of the behavior could be any one or a combination of the following:
• Pain, sickness
• Attempt to communicate a need or want
• Sensory overload
• Hunger
• Fatigue
• Task avoidance – behavior to avoid doing something else
• Smells – sometimes smells that are pleasant to us, can be offensive to those on the spectrum
• Sounds – we may not even hear a sound that is intrusive to the child

If the behavior does not seem to directly relate to one of the categories listed above, slowly begin introducing one of the strategies below. Stick to the new strategy for at least 2 weeks before stopping, even if the behavior gets worse. There is a good chance that the behavior will get worse before it gets better.

Strategies to decrease behaviors in the home:
• Establish and stick to routines as much as possible.
• Create a routine that is the same every morning. For example:
1. Get out of bed
2. Get dressed
3. Eat breakfast
4. Brush teeth
5. My time
6. Leave for school/daycare
• Try and keep daytime routines similar so that the child is eating lunch and participating in other activities around the same time every day.
• Create a routine for bedtime.
• Create a signal where your child can request a break, which may be to enjoy a favorite or calming activity before they melt down. You might use a word or a visual such as a picture on an index card. Make several of the cards and have them everywhere, so your child can grab one easily.
• Use pictures and visuals to assist in daily routines and schedules.
• Prepare and warn your child if there are changes to routines and schedules. This will give them time to get used to it.
• Make transitions the same. The same song, picture or saying could be used for each transition.
• Include exercise or some sort of gross motor movement every day.
• Be aware of antecedents – what is happening before the behavior occurs – could be something we don’t notice (i.e. dog barking next door).
• Less is more! Talk/explain with as little words as possible!
• Be consistent. As hard as it can be, it will pay off eventually.
• Relax! Schedule time for yourself or you and your spouse. Use family or respite.
• Communicate with school/daycare – teachers need to know things that may affect changes in behavior at school and the family needs to know how school went and what may affect changes in behavior at home.
• Constantly re-evaluate and look at what may be causing the behaviors.
• Know you are not alone. Seek out support groups and others who have experiences like you.

Children on the Autism Spectrum may display an array of behaviors. There are lots of strategies that families can use to help manage these behaviors in the home.

Becky Andersen lives in Milwaukee with her husband and two children. She taught Special Education and worked with children on the Autism Spectrum for 15 years. The last 5 years, she worked exclusively with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. She recently took time off from teaching to spend more time with her family and is currently an Autism Consultant. Becky can be reached at Autismchaser.com.

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