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What are behavior strategies that could help my child with autism?

Aggressive behavior can impede development of children with autism. They need compassion, understanding, and structure to succeed, and Therapeutic Pathways is here to help make that goal a reality.

Keep reading to learn how autism aggression treatment using ABA therapy can help your child.


1. Celebrate their strengths and reward flexibility.

Many children with autism have distinct skill sets and impressive intellectual abilities. For example, some children can learn a new instrument in half the time, and others can name the performance statistics of each player on their favorite sports team

Children with autism have incredible strengths, but they also face deep challenges regarding their behavior and social life, aggression being one of the most serious. One of the best ways a parent or caregiver can combat those challenges and help their child progress is by celebrating their strengths and rewarding flexibility.

As a parent, you can tell your child what they are doing well and what you like about their behavior. For example, you can provide positive feedback when your child quietly puts their toys away after playing (“Great job putting away your toys so quietly!”).

Positive feedback helps your child understand exactly what you want them to do and fosters a sense of competence and motivation.

You can use the same approach if your child shows flexibility in their wants or needs. For example, if they behave well after learning that their trip to the zoo is rescheduled for another day, you can reward them by taking them to get ice cream instead.


2. Validate your child’s emotions and concerns.

Children with autism often have a hard time understanding their emotions and controlling impulses based on those emotions. That’s why it’s so important to understand why a child is behaving a certain way – without understanding why, we risk punishing their emotions as well as their behavior. This is a harmful mistake that can make children feel invalidated, attacked, and even more frustrated.

Instead, try these autism aggression treatment techniques to help teach your child appropriate behavior:

  • Acknowledge that your child is upset: “Tom, you look really upset to me.”
  • Validate your child’s emotions: “I know you’re upset because you can’t have your toy right now. That would make me upset, too.” Validation doesn’t mean that you agree with your child’s behavior; this is simply acknowledging that your child has feelings and deserves to feel them.
  • Help your child understand how they can get what they want. If your child wants to play with a toy but hasn’t cleaned their room, you can explain to them that they must clean their room before they can play with the toy. Focus on what they need to do, not on the negative behavior.

It’s also helpful to give voice to your child’s concerns instead of leaving them nameless. Sometimes, simply being able to say what bothers them can calm them down. For example, your child is upset because they saw a spider beside them, so you can say “I know that you don’t like spiders and I can see that you’re afraid right now.”

Simply naming the emotion helps your child understand that it is normal and that they are safe.

By validating your child’s concerns, you help them learn appropriate behaviors in a safe way, making them feel respected and loved.


3. Provide clear expectations and boundaries.

Without boundaries, children can feel anxious, insecure, and frightened, especially if they have autism. Children with autism typically have trouble reading unwritten rules or understanding invisible boundaries, so it’s important that you clearly and concisely define what you expect your child to do.

Because habit deviation can make children feel anxious, you should try and set black-and-white rules with consistent consequences.

For example, you can create a visual aid to help your child get to bed on time. A visual aid could be a page with illustrated boxes showing your child the steps they should take before going to bed.

These steps, as well as any consequences, should be consistent. For example, your child’s bedtime is at 8 pm. You have told them this and helped them create a visual schedule to help them remember. They go to bed at 8 for a few nights, but they stay up until 10 the next night. If there is no consequence, they may think 10 is a good time to go to bed every night, which could disrupt their habit and create more anxiety.


4. Alternate easy and difficult tasks.

Completing preferred and non-preferred tasks is another important aspect of autism aggression treatment. Alternating a difficult activity with an easy or more enjoyable one can help your child learn and persevere. You can play a game with your child or let your child play by themselves, then ask them to do a chore or work on their homework.

Alternating preferred activities helps your child stay motivated, making it less likely that they will get agitated or give up.

A helpful way for children with autism to understand and follow these tasks is by creating a visual schedule. If they have homework to do but want to go to the park, you could create a visual schedule representing the homework being done first, followed by a trip to the park.


5. Allow your child a time and place to do what they want.

Part of autism aggression treatment is promoting appropriate conduct and taking control of one’s emotions. A helpful and constructive way to do this is to provide a space for your child to go when they feel frustrated, anxious, or simply want to be alone for a while.

This could be a space where your child goes to calm down, recharge, or release their pent-up frustration. Of course, it should be a safe room free of harmful or sharp objects or substances.

You should choose a dedicated space (if it’s their safe space today, it’ll be their safe space next week) that is removed from noise and high-traffic areas. You can put a chair or couch in the room, and you should try and make the environment as calming and comfortable as possible – no overly bright lights, stereos, or visual distractions.

If your child does not demonstrate aggressive behavior requiring “cool down” time (this can be unpredictable so a scheduled time wouldn’t make sense), choose a set time for your child to go to their space.

For example, give them 30 minutes or an hour in their space when they get home from school. This can help them recharge and reduce anxiety.


Autism Aggression Treatment using ABA Therapy at Therapeutic Pathways

At Therapeutic Pathways, our goal is to help every child with autism develop into the best version of themselves.

If your child has an autism diagnosis and is demonstrating harmful or aggressive behaviors, contact Therapeutic Pathways to learn more about how our services at the Behavior Center could help. Call (209) 422-3280 to learn more.