Behavior Interventions for Autism: What Parents Can Do

Behavior challenges hinder learning and social development in children with autism spectrum disorder. Delays in speech and language, and difficulties with communication, lead to problem behaviors, because a child can’t convey his wants and needs. It is important to identify these behaviors and to make changes in your daily, basic interactions to improve them.

Have a plan of action, so that you always have answers to the two questions: What will I do when the behavior occurs, and, more important, what changes can I make to reduce the probability of the behavior happening at all? I use the acronym CHANGE — six steps to changing a behavior in your child with ASD:

1. Consistency

Consistency is the most important factor involved in changing behavior. Once you have a plan of action, everyone involved in your child’s life should help to carry it out. Inconsistent use of strategies leads to behaviors that become even tougher to change. If Mom and Dad respond differently to challenging behaviors, children don’t learn to behave the way we want them to.

Being consistent is not easy. Anything — a special family event or a long plane ride — can lead parents to alter the behavior plan. Stick to the plan as much as you can for the best results.

Positive reinforcement should be there every day, as well. Decades of research show that this is one of the major strategies for changing behavior in children with ASD.

2. Have Clear Expectations

Set clear, attainable expectations for your child and your family. Everyone in the family should know what is expected and what to do when your child doesn’t behave well.

The manner in which you deliver directions and expectations affects whether or not your child will heed them. Parents should present statements, not questions — “It is time to clean up,” rather than “Can you clean up now?” The latter can elicit a “yes” or “no” response, and “no” is not what you want to hear. Remember that children with…

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