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Nonverbal Behavior Management Strategies for Children with Autism


Many children with autism turn to aggression to get their point across. This is especially true for children who are nonverbal, meaning they will never learn to speak more than a few words.

You might be tempted to validate your child’s aggressive behavior when you consider how frustrating it must be to not understand what’s happening around you or being unable to communicate your thoughts.

However, your child must understand which behaviors are safe and acceptable and which are not. Your child needs to understand that aggression is not an acceptable form of self-expression and that there are other ways to communicate their feelings without putting themselves or others in danger.

Keep reading to learn some nonverbal behavior management strategies for your child, and call Therapeutic Pathways at (209) 422-3280 to apply for a therapy program that will help them develop life skills and gain independence.


Nonverbal Behavior Management Strategies

The following behavior strategies function within the realm of neutral redirection. Neutral redirection is a technique where a parent stops their child from engaging in an aggressive behavior, guiding them to perform an appropriate behavior instead.

Parents should not speak to their child while they are redirecting the behavior. Speaking or raising your voice could make your child feel distressed or confused, especially if they already have trouble communicating and understand language.

Keeping that in mind, let’s evaluate some of the nonverbal behavior management strategies that are available to parents of children with autism. 


Visual Behavior Supports

Just like neurotypical children, children with autism learn in a variety of ways. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy in teaching your child appropriate and non-aggressive behaviors, but a highly effective method, and one which many researchers tout as the best option, is learning through visual supports.

A visual support is a picture or other visual representation that helps a child communicate with others and have others communicate with them. Visual supports can help mitigate aggressive behavior by giving children the opportunity to fully express their feelings and frustrations, as well as helping them understand social expectations, like knowing how to start a conversation.

Visual supports provide children with information on what is expected of them, and possible consequences of not following the rules. Visual behavior supports help children remember how they should behave, as well as encouraging communication and creating supportive relationships.

Some of the most popular types of visual behavior supports include:


First-Then Boards

A first-then board breaks tasks down into smaller, easy-to-understand segments. It is a visual display of something that your child prefers that will receive or can participate in after they complete a task that they do not prefer.

For example, if you want your child to clean their room before they can have a snack, 

you can create a first-then board with an image of them cleaning their room in the “first” 

section and an image of them eating their snack in the “then” section. 

First-then boards can prevent or mitigate aggressive behavior by showing the child what will happen next if they engage in a particular, appropriate behavior. This strategy is based on the idea that a child will be more likely to engage in an undesired activity (cleaning their room) if they know they can engage in a desired activity afterward (eating their snack).


Contingency Maps

Similar to a first-then board, a contingency map shows a child what will happen if they engage in a particular behavior. However, unlike a first-then-board, a contingency map depicts both sides of the coin – what will happen if the child does what is expected of them, and what happens if they do not.

Contingency maps help give children the opportunity to process and evaluate 

the consequences of their actions, which is a huge step toward independence.


Visual Daily Schedules

Every child with autism can benefit from having an expectation of the events in their day. Because transitions (knowing what to do after one task or activity) are a common precursor to challenging or aggressive behavior, visual schedules help mitigate anxiety and lend a sense of predictability.

You can create a visual daily schedule with photographs, drawings, or written lists, beginning with the first thing your child should do in the morning and ending with the last thing they should do at night. You can also create a schedule for one particularly challenging task.

For example, if your child has difficulty tying their shoes, you can create a visual 

schedule breaking down each step into a more easily manageable one.


Nonverbal Behavior Management Strategies for Children with Autism

Aggression in children with autism is often a result of not being able to communicate. Your child may feel frustrated or angry at themselves or others when they can’t get their point across.

Thankfully, visual supports are a highly effective way to mitigate and prevent aggressive and problem behavior in children with autism. The certified behavior technicians at Therapeutic Pathways have experience creating and working with visual supports to help manage challenging behavior. 

We’ll work with you and your child to create an in and out-of-home behavior management strategy that will help your child gain independence, function socially, and lead a more fulfilling life.

For more information, call Therapeutic Pathways at (209) 422-3280.