Children with autism usually display different behaviors than their typically-developing peers. To add another layer, two children with autism won’t display the exact same kind of behaviors.
That can make it difficult to know what to do when your child engages in challenging behaviors, but we’ve put together a few tips to help improve your child’s social emotional behavior at home.
At Therapeutic Pathways, our behavior analysts have dedicated their careers to helping children with autism develop and expand their social and emotional skills. We’re dedicated to helping every child thrive, and we’ll work closely with you and your child to help them meet milestones and achieve emotional and behavioral goals.
Types of Challenging Behaviors
These are some of the most common challenging social and emotional behaviors for children with autism:
- Difficulty showing and managing their emotions
- Difficulty recognizing others’ emotions, facial expressions, and emotional cues such as tone and body language
- Difficulty understanding and responding to others’ emotions
Most children with autism can recognize happy and sad emotions around the age of five but may have trouble picking up on subtle expressions of certain emotions, like fear or anger.
Children on the milder end of the spectrum might express their feelings in a similar way to neurotypical children, but they may have a harder time describing those feelings. Children with more severe autism may appear to have less emotional capacity than others, but remember that all children feel and experience all emotions.
1.Set Up Schedules & Routines
As stated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), one of the primary diagnostic criteria for autism is that the child demonstrates restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.
Children with autism prefer sameness and routine over disorder and uncertainty, and any deviation from that preference can result in enormous anxiety and challenging emotional behaviors. A hugely beneficial therapeutic support is to set up schedules and routines at home; these will help your child deal with the stress, anxiety, and uncertainty confronting them when order is disrupted.
Here are some ways you can implement schedules and routines in your home:
- Create a visual schedule similar to that of a typical school day. You can include play time, study time, and chore time, which will be similar to the alternating periods of a typical school day.
- Make sure your child wakes up, eats, and goes to bed at the same time every day. Doing so will give your child a sense of consistency and will help them know what to expect of the day ahead – in other words, what will happen, when.
- You can review the schedule with your child every morning to give them an added sense of predictability, which is known to reduce feelings of anxiety and distress in children with autism.
2.Be Your Child’s Behavior Model
Parents should demonstrate the behaviors that they want their children to engage in every day. This is true for every child, regardless of an autism diagnosis. The theory of social learning asserts that children learn behavior from observing others’ behavior – especially their parents’.
If you yell and act aggressively every time you’re upset, you’re teaching your child that these are acceptable behaviors when they’re upset.
Even if you’re deservedly upset with your child, you should respond to them in ways that are sensitive, affectionate, and flexible. For example, if your child is yelling or screaming at you, you may be tempted to yell at them to stop. Instead, take a deep breath and say, in a clear, calm tone of voice, “We’ll talk when you use a calm voice like mine.”
3.Reinforce Desired Behavior
In Discrete Trial Training (one method of teaching in Applied Behavior Analysis), your child’s therapist may teach object names by beginning with a preferred toy “car”. They’ll provide a prompt (“Point to the car”), and will then reward the behavior. The reward could be a piece of candy, some words of praise, or a visual marker of their achievement, such as a gold star or animal sticker.
At home, you can reinforce desired (appropriate) behaviors through specific verbal praise. This is a simple but meaningful way to let your child know that you noticed the good things they are doing. For example, you could provide positive reinforcement through verbal praise by saying “I’m so impressed with how you played nicely with your brother and sister,” or “Thank you for remembering to ask before you took another cookie.”
These simple words of praise can encourage children more than you’d expect. Everyone needs positivity, and through positive reinforcement, you’ll let your child know that you’re on their side.
Get More Help With Social-Emotional Behaviors
Therapeutic Pathways utilizes Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy to encourage helpful social-emotional behaviors and reduce harmful, challenging behaviors in children with autism.
ABA therapy is an evidence-based autism treatment with many benefits, including behavior improvement. Contact us today at (209) 422-3280 to learn more about what our skillful approach can do for your family.