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Behaviour Strategies For Autism

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Behaviour Strategies For Autism

The degree to which a person with autism experiences symptoms may differ. Some may experience mild symptoms manageable in day-to-day life with the correct provisions. However, others who experience more severe symptoms may require consistent care or supervision. Considering these behaviours, strategies have been implemented to help those with autism deal with their disorder.

Behaviour strategies for autism: Autism and challenging behaviours

Symptoms of ASD may appear as early as age 2-3. However, many people are undiagnosed until later childhood, adolescence or adulthood.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that often impacts social, emotional and communication skills.

ASD may cause a person to perform repetitive behaviours, be highly revolved around routine and have attention difficulties. A person with autism may have problems learning and can feel overwhelmed for various reasons, including sensitivity to sensory experiences (e.g., loud noises). Indicators of ASD include:

  • Lack of eye contact
  • Repetitive movements and habits
  • Extreme dislikes of particular sounds, tastes, or smells
  • Lack of response to social cues, e.g. smiling
  • Difficulty understanding what others are thinking or feeling
  • Unable to cope with change to routine
  • Restriction of behaviours and thought patterns
  • Preferring to be alone or having difficulty making or maintaining friendships

A person with ASD may present challenging behaviours:

  • Physically challenging behaviours include biting, pulling hair, throwing things, falling to the ground, hitting others, or spitting.
  • Emotionally challenging behaviours may include shouting, screaming, and anger outbursts that involve swearing.
  • Stimming is a kind of repetitive behaviour shortened from ‘self-stimulating behaviour’.

Examples of stimming include rocking, hand flapping, spinning, and repeating particular words or phrases. Stimming may not always necessarily be difficult and can often be harmless behaviour.

  • Meltdowns may involve physically and emotionally challenging behaviours and completely losing control.
  • Self-injury behaviours are headbanging, biting, or hitting oneself.
  • Pica involves eating objects which are not edible. Objects may be sharp, toxic and dangerous to ingest.
  • Pathological demand avoidance (PDA) involves avoidance of everyday situations or demands.

What may lead to challenging behaviours in autism?

  • Insensitivity to pain – Some people with autism may be more insensitive to pain than others. Those who are more insensitive may be more likely to display physically challenging behaviours, such as self-injuring or Pica.
  • Anxiety – Changing routines or experiencing a sensory overload may trigger anxiety expressed through challenging behaviours. A person may be more sensitive to sensory stimuli and, therefore, more likely to experience sensory overload and anxiety.
  • Confusion – A lack of structure, confusing information or new environments/situations may cause confusion and uncertainty, making it difficult for a person to understand what is happening around them. Such feelings may cause challenging behaviours.

Functional analysis is carried out to assess challenging behaviours, which identifies and evaluates potential triggers, including:

  • Environmental triggers (social and physical)
  • Physical disorder triggers
  • Communication difficulties
  • Changes to routines
  • Other mental disorders being present (e.g., depression).
Behaviour Strategies for Autism, autism treatment behaviour strategies, StudySmarterAutism treatment, freepik.com/vectorjuice

High functioning autism behavioural problems

The term ‘high functioning autism’ refers to people with autism who have average intelligence. However, they may have deficits in communication, understanding emotions and social interaction. A person with high functioning autism may be able to function in day-to-day life and have developed life skills, as well as reading, writing, and speaking skills.

Some indicators of high functioning may include:

  • Emotional sensitivity – Provocation from a particular use of words, tone of voice or event can lead to challenging behaviours. Following challenging behaviours, a person may face extreme emotions of guilt and feel they need to isolate themselves.
  • Repetition – Brushing teeth for five minutes at the same time each day after a meal is an example of repetitive behaviour which a person with high-functioning autism may display.

Disruptions to this routine, for example, mealtime being delayed, may cause distress and challenging behaviours.

  • Obsessive fixations – Fixations on hobbies or activities. Such fixations can be positive and lead to extensive knowledge around a particular area and may lead to the development of social interactions through communicating with like-minded others.

Behaviour Strategies for Autism, children playing with building blocks, StudySmarterAutism centre, freepik.com/vectorjuice

Behaviour strategies for autism: Positive behaviour strategies

Positive behaviour strategies (also known as positive behavioural support, PBS) can be used to help a person with ASD cope effectively and adapt to day-to-day life. As a result, these strategies can also be considered preventative to potentially help to reduce anxieties and challenging behaviours. They are delivered by professionals based on evidence, with professional standards.

Positive behaviour strategies focus primarily on improving the quality of life and use a data-driven approach throughout the entire process. Functional assessment is conducted to guide the strategy employed, and proactive and reactive methods help manage and change behaviour.

To use positive behaviour strategies, a specialist needs descriptions of challenging behaviours and identification of events and times. This helps understand routines and what could disrupt them. Then, they identify the consequences of what those behaviours do for the person (biting = frustration) and make summary statements. Direct observation data supports this process.¹

Examples of strategies used include:

  • Supporting self-confidence – Self-confidence can help reduce any anxiety a person with ASD may have in their abilities.
  • Positive rewards and reinforcement – Reinforcement and rewards may motivate and help people with ASD cope with a particularly challenging situation.
  • Learning functional skills – Learning day-to-day independence skills, from making a drink to accessing public transport, can support a person to be more self-confident, reduce anxieties and become more independent.
  • Adapting appropriate behaviours – A person with ASD may need guidance to learn what behaviours are appropriate and inappropriate. The person may also require additional support to carry out these behaviours or may need to know how to do this.

Behaviour strategies for autism: Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

Developed by Frost and Bondy (1984), Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS) provide autistic people with different ways to communicate if they struggle to use the more conventional methods (speaking, body language etc.) They use pictures instead, which can help communicate requests, thoughts, or feelings.

Symbolised images can be given more meaning through continued work with the people in mind. Sign language is a form of PECS, and PECS has been shown to help people develop their verbal language skills, despite needing to rely on image communication initially. PECS² is taught in phases:

  1. Associations, how to communicate: children are shown how to associate images with objects/activities/needs, and they can exchange them for what they want. To keep it simple, single images are used first.
  2. Distance and continued use: single images are still used, and children are encouraged to use them in different scenarios with different people.
  3. Discrimination: the distinction between images and what they want is identified and encouraged in a child, so they can choose from multiple options to indicate what they want.
  4. Sentence structure: images are combined with a written sentence that can be attached to describe what they want, aka, "I want", would be attached to a picture.
  5. Questions and answers: children use PECS to discuss and answer simple questions using the above sentence structures with their carers.
  6. Sentence combining: the child can respond to questions more thoroughly, commenting on their feelings and what they see and hear.

Behaviour Strategie for Autism, a child in a speech therapy, StudySmarterSpeech therapy, freepik.com/vectorjuice

Behaviour strategies for autism: Autism behaviour intervention strategies

The National Autistic Society created a framework to help understand how to respond to the needs of a person with autism. The framework can be applied as an intervention strategy and help challenging behaviour.

SPELL

  • Structure – A structured environment involves predictability, e.g., knowing the noise level, who will be in the environment, and generally understanding what to expect.

Knowing what to expect, a person with autism may have less anxiety about visiting the environment. Additionally, a structured environment may comprise simple, visual information to support a person’s independence, avoiding confusion or feeling overwhelmed.

  • Positive approaches – Positivity can be reinforced to help a person with autism feel more confident and create positive associations with the environment. Self-confidence can be developed by positively supporting a person’s strengths and abilities and help develop and adapt to new situations.

For example, a person may have difficulties communicating and develops low confidence. On the other hand, the person may also have great strengths in remembering information. Therefore such qualities should be reinforced. Low confidence around weaknesses can also be helped by thinking strategies such as ‘people understand’ or other methods, such as taking the time or using visual cues to communicate with others.

  • Empathy – Using empathy is key to helping understand a person with autism. Through empathy, people can learn to understand the mindset of an individual with autism and try to understand concepts such as what motivates, frightens, upsets or preoccupies a person with autism.

Understanding a person with autism helps the relationship and may reduce anxieties for a person with autism in knowing that people around them understand them.

  • Low arousal – Changes may need to be made to support low arousal. A person with autism may become anxious in an environment with a lot of noise, people, distractions, and an untidy environment. A calming atmosphere may support low arousal, avoid any distress feelings, and support relaxation and predictability.
  • Links – Sharing information between family members, friends and professionals supports open communication and helps people around a person to recognise and understand what they may be able to do or not do to help a person with autism. Linking helps people to support a person to the best ability.

Behaviour strategies for autism: Prevention strategies for challenging behaviour autism

Several preventative measures can be put in place to help reduce challenging behaviours. Together, these strategies can be used as a combined approach to reduce the likelihood of challenging behaviours. Prevention strategies for challenging behaviour include:

  • Relationship development intervention (RDI) - Families are involved in helping address and cope with the symptoms of autism and building on social and emotional skills.

Families, specifically the parents, are trained and act as therapists in this form of intervention, and it uses a dynamic approach to improve the quality of life for autistic children. Overall, RDI focuses on emotional referencing, social coordination, declarative language, flexible thinking, relational, informational processing, and foresight and hindsight.

  • Get to know the person – Understanding the person, their personality, likes, dislikes, and triggers can help identify what may cause challenging behaviours and help put strategies in place to reduce this likelihood.
  • Clear, simple language and gestures – Clarity is essential to avoid confusion and understand the information. This helps to avoid any unnecessary stress or other emotions.
  • Calming environment – A safe, relaxing space involving soft objects and sensory stimuli that a person likes, e.g., certain colours, sounds or textures, may help prevent challenging behaviours. If challenging behaviours are displayed, a quiet, safe environment with the absence of hard, sharp objects may help to reduce risk to self and others.
  • Sleeping – Some people with autism may have issues with sleeping. This can be due to several factors, including sensitivity to noise, light and anxiety issues.
  • Eating – A person with autism may have difficulties eating due to issues with particular textures and colours. This may allow the person to have a limited diet. To support this, positive reinforcement can be used to introduce a balanced diet, a food diary that records food intake, and GP support.

Behaviour Strategies For Autism - Key takeaways

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that often impacts social, emotional and communication skills.
  • ASD may cause a person to perform repetitive behaviours, be highly revolved around routine and have difficulties with attention.
  • A person with ASD may present challenging behaviours such as hitting, biting, stimming, Pica and Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA).
  • Behaviour strategies for autism involve SPELL, Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS), Relationship Development Intervention, and the adoption of various approaches to improve the overall quality of life for those with autism.
  • PECS has shown that it improves verbal language skills alongside aiding communication in autistic people.

References

  1. Positive Behavioural Support (PBS) Coalition. (2015). Retrieved 7 April 2022, from http://pbsacademy.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Positive-Behavioural-Support-Competence-Framework-May-2015.pdf
  2. Sulzer-Azaroff, B., Hoffman, A. O., Horton, C. B., Bondy, A., & Frost, L. (2009). The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) what do the data say?. Focus on autism and other developmental disabilities, 24(2), 89-103.

Frequently Asked Questions about Behaviour Strategies For Autism

Behavioural interventions include Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS), Relationship Development Intervention,  positive reinforcement, encouraging self-confidence, structure, low-arousal environment, empathy, and sharing information across support networks.  

The five strategies are structure, positive approaches, empathy, low-arousal and links. These five strategies were developed by the National Autistic Society to help people with autism and people around them.  

Autistic people may need a quiet, safe place when displaying challenging behaviours. Each individual may have different coping strategies, including art, stress toys, and expressing their emotions.  

Positive reinforcement, rewards, positive tone of voice, and implementation of strategies may all contribute to supporting positive behaviour in autism. These are all forms of positive behavioural support (PBS). 

Families, schools, and other professionals may put strategies in place which are unique to the individual. Strategies frequently implemented for a person with ASD are routine, clarity, and structure. 

Final Behaviour Strategies For Autism Quiz

Question

Q. True or false. All people with autism display challenging behaviours?


Show answer

Answer

A. False. Not all people with autism display challenging behaviours. 

Show question

Question

Q. What does SPELL stand for?

A. Structure, Positive approaches, empathy, low arousal, links 

B. Structure, People, Empathy, Low emotions, links

C. Structure, People, Environment, low arousal, links

 

Show answer

Answer

  • A. Structure, Positive approaches, empathy, low arousal, links

Show question

Question

Q. At what early age can symptoms of Autism appear?

A. 2-3 years old 

B. 4-6 years old 

C. 8-9 years old. 


 

Show answer

Answer

  • 2-3 years old

Show question

Question

Q. True or false. Pica involves eating objects which are not edible.


Show answer

Answer

A. True. 

Show question

Question

Q. During a ‘Meltdown’ a person with autism is likely to have control over their behaviour. True or false?

 

Show answer

Answer

A. False. 

Show question

Question

Q. What does PDA stand for?

A. Pathological Demand Avoidance

B. Pathological Demand Ambiguity 

C. Psychological Demand Avoidance 


Show answer

Answer

C. Pathological Demand Avoidance

Show question

Question

What is autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

Show answer

Answer

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that often impacts social, emotional and communication skills. ASD may cause a person to perform repetitive behaviours, be highly revolved around routine and have difficulties with attention.  

Show question

Question

What are some symptoms of autism?

Show answer

Answer

  • Lack of eye contact  
  • Repetitive movements and habits 
  • Extreme dislikes of particular sounds, tastes or smells 
  • Lack of response to social cues, e.g. smiling 
  • Difficulty understanding what others are thinking or feeling 
  • Unable to cope with change to routine 
  • Restriction of behaviours and thought patterns 
  • Preferring to be alone or having difficulty making or maintaining friendships

Show question

Question

What is stimming?

Show answer

Answer

Stimming is a kind of repetitive behaviour that is shortened as ‘Self-stimulating behaviour’. Examples of stimming include rocking, hand flapping, spinning, and repeating particular words or phrases. Stimming may not always necessarily be challenging and can often be harmless behaviour.  

Show question

Question

What does functional analysis identify and evaluate?

Show answer

Answer

Triggers that are in the environmental, physical and social situations, communication difficulties, changes to routines, and potential issues in other mental disorders being present.

Show question

Question

What is Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS)?

Show answer

Answer

Developed by Frost and Bondy (1984), Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS) provide autistic people with different ways to communicate if they struggle to use the more conventional methods (speaking, body language etc.)


They use pictures instead, and this can be used to communicate requests, thoughts, or feelings. Symbolised images can be given more meaning through continued work with the people in mind.

Show question

Question

What are the stages in PECS?

Show answer

Answer

  1. Associations, how to communicate
  2. Distance and continued use
  3. Discrimination between images (multiple options)
  4. Sentence Structures
  5. Questions and Answers
  6. Complex Sentence Combining

Show question

Question

What is relationship development interventions (RDI) in Autism?

Show answer

Answer

Families are involved to help address and cope with the symptoms of autism, and build on social and emotional skills. Families, specifically the parents, are trained and act as therapists in this form of intervention, and it uses a dynamic approach to improve the quality of life for autistic children. Overall, RDI focuses on emotional referencing, social coordination, declarative language, flexible thinking, relational informational processing, and foresight and hindsight.  

Show question

Question

What framework did the national autistic society create to help understand autistic people?

Show answer

Answer

The SPELL framework.

Show question

Question

PECS reduces verbal language skills when used. True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False. PECS has been shown to help people develop their verbal language skills. 

Show question

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