This article focuses on strategies and behavior management techniques for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). These strategies and behavior management therapy techniques are also applicable to other children and special needs.
We often hear parents’ complaints ‘My son is different when taking a behavior therapy session, but I don’t know what happens to him at home. He bangs things, hits, cries, and does everything that eventually lead to scolding’. ‘How to improve my child’s behavior?’ Behavior is the buzz word in present times. Due to increased exposure to gadgets, and violence and bad language witnessed through cartoons and media, behavior tantrums are on the rise.
When working with a child with autism, a parent, teacher, or other adult may become frustrated with the child’s behavior. Behaviors can come on suddenly, last for hours, be hard to control, or make the adult scared or embarrassed.
What are the characteristics of Children with Autism?
Before going into Behavior Therapy, I would like to briefly talk about the main characteristics of autism. One has to remember that autism is along the spectrum, ranging from mild to severe. Hence, the presentation of symptoms vary to a great degree. Keep in mind that all children with autism are different. Some may have only a few of the characteristics below, while others may have many.
Here are some common characteristics of children with autism to help you better understand the root of their behavior. https://craftinglives.com/special-needs/
1. Need for a particular routine:
Children with Autism may show a need to follow a routine. This helps them understand what to expect. They can become frustrated when things don’t go according to their expectation. For instance, a child who is used to coming back home straight after therapy might show ‘uncontrollable tantrums’ if mother stops her car to pick up some grocery.
2. Trouble understanding complex non-verbal cues:
Children with Autism may have trouble using and understanding language, or certain aspects of language, such as sarcasm, expressions, and body language. For instance, they may not be able to laugh on a joke and try finding a literal meaning to it.
3. Difficulty taking in sensory input in an ordinary way:
Children on the spectrum may show sensory integration disorders. They may not take sensory input in the ordinary way. For example, a vacuum cleaner or a pressure cooker whistle may sound overly loud. The smell of an agarbatti (Incense Stick) may be extra strong. Even the feel of a party wear fancy cloth may be extra itchy.
4. Difficulty understanding other person’s feelings:
Trouble recognizing another person’s opinion or understanding another person’s feelings. The children may find difficult to understand grief and may cause embarrassment for the parents at times.
5. Difficulty understanding open ended tasks:
Difficulty working on or participating in activities with no clear ending (e.g., an open-ended writing activity, a class lecture)
6. Difficulty switching from one activity to another:
Children with autism find it difficult to move from one activity to the other. This can be especially tough if the switch is from something enjoyable to something not enjoyable.
7. Difficulty organizing themselves in productive play:
Children with Autism would normally like to play alone or a self-directed play if in a group. They will not be able to play when not directed or given specific instructions.
What are the different strategies or behavior therapy techniques to manage behavior
Sometimes the characteristics of ASD lead to problem behaviors at home, in the classroom, or in the society. This can be frustrating for the child and the adults caring for him.
It is important to remember: Adults working with children with behavior challenges must change their own behaviors or the environment to meet the needs of the child. Rewards should be acknowledged and praised for positive behavior and allowed for children to earn privileges.
Here are some strategies which can prevent problematic behaviors (Behavior Therapy) or promote positive behavioral changes.
1. The child should know what will happen next (First this, then this….)
For children on the spectrum, a defined schedule helps. They are not able to understand statements like ‘play sometime on mobile and give back’. It is important to define time for them by setting up alarms or timers. For example, “After you finish the puzzle, it is time to brush your teeth”, or “In five minutes it is time to give the mobile and start your writing assignment.” For some children setting up a timer can help the child keep track of how much time is left. So, in the example above, “In five minutes it is time to turn off the computer and start your writing assignment”, you would set the timer for five minutes. Some children need reminders as the time is winding down to 2 minutes, 1 minute, etc.
For instance, one can use sand timers of different time measures. The child can be informed when the sand gets to the bottom.
Children who have difficulty understanding language may respond better to pictures telling them what is expected, rather than verbal directions. For example, if you want the child to work on math and then have a play activity, you can show them a “first/then” board rather than saying “First we will do math and then play a fun game.”
2. Set expectations and be consistent in your approach
I hear it quite often ‘sit quietly, then you will get a chocolate’. The child did sit quiet for some time and then parents went home. At home, he threw an uncontrollable tantrum, and the parents ended up shouting at him, not realizing where they went wrong. I hope most of you reading this will get to know the mistake. Parents promised a chocolate but never gave it.
Inconsistency in delivering a promise often leads to tantrums. If you don’t implement expectations with consistency and follow through on your words, your child will not know what to expect. This can lead to anxiety and challenging behaviour (e.g., talking to you while you are on the phone, repeatedly asking when you will be off the phone, etc.). Children with autism or other challenging behaviours thrive on predictability, so do your best to make their world predictable.
If you promise to play a game with your child if they play quietly while you talk on the phone for five minutes, make sure to keep your end of the bargain. If your child can’t tell time, set a timer and get off the phone in 5 minutes to play the game. This will help your child understand what is expected and believe in what you say.
As he improves, you can increase the time. Once he learns how to play independently while you talk on the phone, you may be able to fade back on such a rigid set-up, but it is a good starting point to teach him how to act while you talk on the phone. This is one example but can be applied to many scenarios. Just know that if you are doing your best, it is not yours or your child’s fault when things don’t go according to plan. Just get back in the swing of a predictable routine as soon as possible.
3. Acknowledge your child for complying with your requests and help them to earn privileges
We are quick to say ‘no’ to the child but don’t really tell what is expected at that time. For instance, a child at doctor’s clinic may keep jumping, and constantly asked to sit by his parents. However, first the comprehension level of the child might not allow him to do so. Even if the child understands, he might be bored, or sofas are a fun for jumping or he wants to seek attention and so on. We can be prepared beforehand to avoid this behavior and many others. Carry a toy, writing sheets or any reinforcer child likes. Tell the child ‘mumma wants you quiet’, put a timer or set an alarm and give toy to play. And the important part is to praise and acknowledge if the child sat quietly.
During the day, there are many instances when the child responds to our demands and act in a positive way; it is very important to acknowledge them through your gestures.
For instance, if your child often has a tantrum in a store when he can’t go to the toy aisle, tell him exactly what you expect of him before you go to the store and reward him with a privilege for following that expectation. For instance, you can say something like “We are going to Big Bazaar. We are going to buy paper and pens, and then we will pay and go home.” Once in the store you can give reminders (e.g., now we are going to get the paper and pens, now we will go pay, you’re doing a nice job following the rules, now we are going home, etc.).
Let the child know that he can earn a privilege for following the rules. Privilege ideas include getting a sticker of a favorite character, playing a favorite game once at home, watching a favorite show, going on the computer, staying up ten minutes past bed time, etc. Try to think of a privilege that your child might like or ask him by giving choices.
4. Give Choices
All children, including those with autism, like to feel a sense of control over their world. Many children benefit from having the choices limited to two to four options (depending on the child), as they get overwhelmed with too many choices and cannot decide. Examples of choices are: “Do you want to play a board game or watch TV,” “Do you want lollipop or gems,” “Do you want to wear the green or red shirt?” Again, children with language difficulties often have more success making choices when you show them the options or pictures of the options (e.g., hold up the red and green shirt and let them point to the one they want). For example, a visual cue for a choice on lunch can be as shown below.
5. If possible, use a schedule to let the child know how his day will go
For children who have trouble reading or understanding language, a visual schedule would be best. A schedule for after school could include “eating a snack”, “doing homework”, “watching TV”, “playing a game with the family”, “reading a book”, “taking a bath” and “going to bed.” A visual schedule at school could include “math”, “reading”, “dance”, “lunch”, “art”, “science”, “packing up”, and “getting on the bus.”
A schedule also helps in case there are some discrepancies from the main schedule. For instance, if the child can’t go swimming because of the rain, put a different picture of an equally likeable activity. Remember to explain the child why there is a change in schedule.
6. Allow the child to bring a transitional object from one activity to the next
For instance, if the child must leave the classroom to go with a new staff member such as a speech therapist, let him bring a favorite object from the classroom such as a stress ball or toy car. This can assist with helping him feel more comfortable in the unfamiliar surroundings.
7. Distract and redirect problematic behavior instead of saying “stop” or “no.”
For example, if the child is running in the store, remind him or show him how to walk nicely. Find something interesting to show him, redirect him back to the line, demonstrate what is expected, or use a gesture for children with trouble understanding language. If necessary, find something interesting to show him.
8. Make directions clear, short, and concrete
It is important to give short and clear directions to children on the spectrum. For example, if a child is throwing food at the table, say “eat your food” rather than “Be good at the table”. For children with difficulty understanding language, showing them a picture or visual demonstration of the behavior can be helpful.
9. When giving tasks, assignments, chores, etc. many children do better if they know when the task will end.
Activities with a clear ending include puzzles, math problems, reading pages, timed events, chores, and writing assignments. Examples include puzzles, math problems, reading pages, timed events, chores, and writing assignments.
Whether you use a timer or provide an activity with a clear visual ending, offer breaks in between for the child to engage in something enjoyable if they become overwhelmed or frustrated with lengthy tasks. For instance, if the child needs to write 20 sentences for homework, have them write ten, take a 10-minute break to participate in a preferred activity, and then proceed with the next ten. (Set a timer or use another method to clearly indicate when the break is coming to an end, such as a countdown chart or a short task with a clear ending).
10. Some children perform well when given structured hands-on or visual activities.
Children often do well when given a hands-on/visual activity, such as playing a computer game, sorting objects by colour or type, completing a puzzle, constructing a model car, tracing or colouring in a picture.
As another example, some teachers of children with autism teach academic skills through sorting tasks. For instance, an activity about learning colours would require the child to put all the yellow blocks in a yellow cup, all the blue blocks in a blue cup, etc. Keeping a child focused with an activity they do well at is a great way to encourage calm behaviour. However, if the child is feeling overwhelmed or frustrated from the activity, allow a break or a change in the task.
11. Stay calm when interacting with the child
I know it can be hard at times but make every effort to be as calm as possible.
If you are regularly having trouble staying calm, you may benefit from talking to a friend, family member, or therapist for support. Do not take it out on your child. Yelling and threatening will not make behavior better. It may stop the behavior in the short-term, but the behaviors will occur again. You may make the behaviors worse because the child may start to feel anxious, scared, angry, embarrassed, or sad. Children with autism are not choosing to act in a way that is frustrating to you or anyone else. They need positive support from you to help them meet their emotional/behavioral needs. (Behavior Therapy)
Children on the autism spectrum may have difficulty generalizing expectations, so strategies may need to be used in similar situations.
The first time using these strategies, the child/student may not be accustomed to the new techniques and may exert more effort due to the sudden change in behavior. Be patient and maintain consistent implementation of these strategies. Remember, as adults, we must change our approaches to behavior management. Embrace the challenge of parenting with happiness!
Behavior therapy is a type of treatment that focuses on changing specific behaviors and teaching new skills to children with developmental, behavioral, or mental health disorders. Behavior Therapy is based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which involves breaking down complex behaviors into manageable parts and using positive reinforcement to teach new skills.
The goal of behavior therapy for autism is to improve the individual’s social, communication, and behavioral skills, which can help them better navigate the world around them and improve their overall quality of life
Crafting Lives is one of the Best Child Therapy Centre in Indirapuram, Ghaziabad. We also provide one on one therapies related to autism, Behavior Therapy and special education in Indirapuram center. The center had the modest beginnings in 2015, and despite the turbulence of the pandemic, managed to deliver the best quality of therapies to the CSN. to read more you can visit https://craftinglives.com/behaviour-related-therapy/
If you keen to know more about behavior therapy, we suggest some reputable sources where you can find information about behavior therapy:
American Psychological Association (APA): The APA is a well-respected organization that provides information on various psychological topics, including behavior therapy. Their website offers articles, research, and resources related to behavior therapy. You can visit their website at www.apa.org.
Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT): ABCT is an interdisciplinary organization dedicated to the advancement of behavioral and cognitive therapies. Their website, www.abct.org, provides information about behavior therapy, including articles, therapist directories, and resources for both professionals and the general public.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): NAMI is a grassroots mental health organization that offers support and resources for individuals with mental health conditions. Their website, www.nami.org, includes information about behavior therapy as a treatment option for various mental health disorders.
Mayo Clinic: Mayo Clinic is a renowned medical institution that provides reliable and comprehensive health information. Their website, www.mayoclinic.org, has a section dedicated to behavior therapy, offering explanations, conditions treated, and what to expect from therapy sessions.
Psychology Today: Psychology Today is a popular magazine and online directory of therapists and mental health professionals. Their website, www.psychologytoday.com, includes articles, blog posts, and a search feature to find therapists who specialize in behavior therapy.
Please do remember to evaluate the information you find, and consult with a qualified mental health and special education professional for personalized advice and treatment options. If you need any sort of Child related counselling or therapy do visit us: www.craftinglives.com or read more https://craftinglives.com/behaviour-related-therapy/