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How to Manage Challenging Behavior

Where science & compassion meet the challenge of autism.

Individuals with autism may be at risk of displaying severe disruptive, aggressive, self-injurious, or other dangerous behaviors. When your child engages in these behaviors, it is important to:

  • Stay calm
  • Avoid facial and vocal expressions of frustration
  • If there is a treatment plan in place, follow it, consistently
  • Once the child is back on task, increase rates of reinforcement
  • Don't provide reprimands. Redirect nonverbally.
  • Always ensure the safety of the child and yourself.
    • For example, if you believe your child is doing something (e.g., climbing up a bookshelf) to access attention, ensure the safety of your child while providing limited attention to the behavior (e.g., physically remove your child from the bookshelf [or other dangerous situation] without saying anything to them, making eye contact with them, or changing your facial expression).
  • Remember, once a behavior is over, it is over. As hard as it may be, you cannot let your feelings about the occurrence carry over into the next activity or interaction you have with your child.

If your child is engaging in behavior that is dangerous to themselves or others, reach out to a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) as soon as possible. BCBAs are trained to identify antecedents and consequences that maintain these behaviors. It is important to remember that these behaviors were learned through their consequences and with prolonged exposure to these consequences, the behavior could be more challenging to decrease in the future.

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