Understanding Challenging Behaviors in Autism Spectrum disorders

Challenging Behaviors and it’s management in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by difficulties in communication, social interaction, and repetitive behaviors. Children with autism may exhibit a range of challenging behaviors that can impact their daily life and the life of those around them. Understanding the different types of challenging behaviors in children with autism is crucial for managing them effectively. These behaviors can range from tantrums, aggression, self-injury, to property destruction.

Different Types of Challenging Behaviors in with Autism Spectrum Disorders

  1. Aggression: Aggression can take many forms, including physical aggression, verbal aggression, and property destruction. Children with autism may exhibit aggressive behaviors as a result of frustration, fear, or a lack of communication skills.
  2. Self-Injury: Children with autism may engage in self-injury, such as head-banging, biting, or hitting themselves, as a way of coping with stress or discomfort.
  3. Tantrums: Tantrums are common in children with autism and can be a result of frustration, anxiety, or a lack of understanding.
  4. Repetitive Behaviors: Repetitive behaviors, such as flapping, rocking, or spinning, can be a way for children with autism to regulate their sensory input and reduce anxiety.
  5. Elopement: Elopement, or wandering away from a safe place, is a common challenge in children with autism and can pose a significant safety risk.
  6. Non-Compliance: Children with autism may exhibit non-compliance as a result of a lack of understanding or difficulty with following instructions.
  7. Property Destruction: Children with autism may engage in property destruction, such as breaking toys or furniture, as a way of expressing frustration or anger.
  8. Withdrawal: Children with autism may withdraw from social situations or become non-verbal as a way of coping with sensory overload or anxiety.
Image courtesy- Life with lexi on the spectrum

Modifying Challenging Behaviors

To modify challenging behaviors, it is essential to understand the reason behind them. In many cases, these behaviors are a form of communication or a response to an environmental trigger. Thus, the first step in modifying challenging behaviors is to identify the underlying cause. This can be done by observing the child and keeping a behavior diary.

Once the cause of the behavior has been identified, the next step is to develop a behavior modification plan.

Behavior Modification plan

This plan should include strategies for preventing the behavior, teaching new skills, and reinforcing positive behaviors. Some strategies that can be used to modify challenging behaviors include:

1. Positive Reinforcement: Reinforcing positive behaviors with rewards can help increase the frequency of these behaviors.

2. Visual Supports: Visual aids like picture schedules, social stories, and visual prompts can help children with autism understand expectations and routines.

3. Sensory Integration: Children with autism may exhibit challenging behaviors as a result of sensory sensitivities. Sensory integration activities can help reduce these sensitivities and prevent challenging behaviors.

4. Communication Training: Improving communication and social skills can help reduce the frustration that can lead to challenging behaviors.

5. Coregulation: Coregulation refers to the process of regulating emotions and behavior in oneself and others. In children with Autism coregulation can be a challenge due to difficulties in social interaction and communication. With the right support and interventions, children with ASD can learn to improve their coregulation skills. This can include therapy focused on emotional regulation resulting in significant reduction to the causes leading to challenging behaviors.

Image courtesy @coastalconnectionsot

Managing Challenging Behaviors

Once challenging behaviors have been modified, it is important to have a plan in place for managing them if they occur. The following strategies can help manage challenging behaviors:

–>Avoid Punishment: Punishing challenging behaviors can increase anxiety and lead to further challenging behaviors. Instead, positive reinforcement and redirection should be used to encourage positive behaviors.

–>Use Deep Pressure Stimulation: Deep pressure stimulation, like tight hugs or weighted blankets, can help calm children with autism who are experiencing a meltdown.

–>Create a Safe Space: Providing a safe, calming space for children with autism can help prevent challenging behaviors. This space should be equipped with sensory toys, books, and other calming activities.

–>Take a Break: Taking a break from a situation that is causing frustration or stress can help prevent challenging behaviors.

ABC Charting in Behavior Modification

ABC charting is a behavior modification technique that can help individuals with autism better understand the consequences of their actions and make positive changes.

What is ABC Charting?

ABC charting is a behavior modification tool that involves recording three components of a behavior: antecedent, behavior, and consequence. The antecedent is what happened before the behavior, the behavior itself is what happened, and the consequence is what happened after the behavior. This information helps children with autism understand the relationship between their behavior and the consequences that follow.

ABC Chart – Courtsey- Kent Community Health NHS foundation trust

How does ABC Charting Work?

To start, a therapist or caregiver will identify a behavior that they would like to change in a child. They will then record the antecedent, behavior, and consequence for each occurrence of that behavior over a set period of time. For example:

1. Antecedent: Asked to clean room
2. Behavior: Refused to clean room
3. Consequence: Allowed to play video games

This information can then be used to identify patterns and triggers for the behavior and develop a plan to change it. For example, in the above scenario, the child may have learned that refusing to clean their room leads to playing video games, so they continue to refuse. By understanding this, the child and therapist can work on creating a new consequence for the behavior, such as earning a reward for cleaning the room.

ABC Chart – Courtsey- Kent Community Health NHS foundation trust

Why is ABC Charting Effective for Individuals with Autism?

ABC charting is effective for children with autism because it provides a visual representation of the relationship between behavior and consequences. This can help children with autism better understand the impact of their actions and make positive changes. Additionally, it allows child to take an active role in their own behavior modification and fosters a sense of ownership and control.

Hence, ABC charting is a useful behavior modification tool for children with autism. By providing a visual representation of the relationship between behavior and consequences, children with autism can better understand the impact of their actions and make positive changes. With the help of a therapist or caregiver, ABC charting can be a valuable tool in promoting positive behavior in children with autism.

Conclusion: In conclusion, managing challenging behaviors in children with autism can take many forms and can have different causes. Understanding the specific type of challenging behavior is essential for developing an effective behavior modification plan and managing it effectively. It requires a holistic approach that takes into account the child’s individual needs and circumstances. With the right strategies and support, it is possible to modify and manage challenging behaviors, allowing children with autism to lead fulfilling and happy lives.

Author Shilpi Mayank Awasthi

Shilpi is Founder of, a mother of a 5 year old on Autism spectrum and a behavior management expert in ASD toddlers.

Featured artwork by Morpheus Nag

Creative representation for this blog is done by our extremely talented CreativeSaathi associate Morpheus Nag


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