Challenging Behaviours In Children With Autism

Aditi hits her head to the wall if someone says No to her. Rhea gets upset whenever she hears the doorbell, she covers her ears and screams. Ishaan refuses to wear shoes and throws them off the minute you’ve fixed them on. These are some common situations parents of children with Autism may find themselves in. Sometimes, traits we see in children with Autism can lead to behaviours that we may find difficult to understand or manage.


Definition of Challenging Behaviours

While challenging behaviours might be differently defined for different people, we can broadly define these behaviours as those that are harmful (to the individual or others),destructive, cause others to label or isolate the individual for being odd or different and prevent an individual from learning and participating in aspects of community life. 

These challenging behaviours can occur at any point in an individual’s life. With therapy and intervention, children with autism learn to better manage and adapt their symptoms; however certain changes or situations can result in new challenging behaviours.


Concerns over these Challenging Behaviours

Most children with Autism will display challenging behaviours at some point in time and without the right knowledge and guidance, parents might find these behaviours unmanageable and experience considerable concern and stress. These behaviours might also cause safety concerns, harm or damage. Parents, while feeling helpless might also feel responsible for causing these behaviours but it is important to know you are not responsible for these challenging behaviours. 

If these behaviours aren’t addressed correctly, they can become a larger safety concern as the child grows older and stronger physically and can lead to crises. Children might use aggression as a way to avoid certain situations as they become physically stronger and can overpower their caregivers.  Certain behaviours might also become more difficult to manage as the child hits puberty. 

What causes these Challenging Behaviours

It is important to note that Autism by itself doesn’t cause difficult behaviours. However, the core characteristics of Autism present challenges in communication. Being unable to express one's feelings and needs can lead to frustration, anxiety, confusion, a lack of control, which results in these difficult behaviours. All behaviour is communication, therefore, children with autism often unknowingly might voice their concerns, stress and frustration through behaviours, instead of words.

A child's past experiences shape their responses and this can cause challenging behaviours to occur repeatedly. If a child has learned that screaming and hitting gets them out of a difficult task, they are more likely to repeat this behaviour the next time a similar situation crops up. 


Children with autism learn differently, as they may not have yet developed the skills and abilities that children generally use. Therefore, usual methods of behaviour correction may not work with children with autism. Proper knowledge and guidance can help parents understand and manage these behaviours more effectively and also help children with autism and their caregivers to feel safe and supported at all times while living a life with purpose and dignity. 


Common Challenging Behaviours 

Although challenging behaviours can vary from individual to individual, below are some of the most common ones seen among children with Autism. Some might occur more frequently while others may be less common. The intensity with which these behaviours occur will also vary, according to the environment and may change over time. However, having knowledge of these terms and being able to use them to describe them to a professional can help parents.

Disruption

Occurs when an individual exhibits inappropriate behaviours that interfere with the function and flow of his surroundings. Examples include interrupting a classroom or a parent’s ability to make a meal. Behaviours might include banging, kicking, throwing objects, tearing things or yelling.

Elopement

Refers to running away and not coming back to where the person started. In autism, it is used to describe a situation where a person leaves a safe space, a caregiver or a supervised situation either by wandering, sneaking or running away

Non-compliance

Is when an individual refuses to follow directions, rules or wishes of someone else. Although at times it can be purposeful, at times it can also be caused by a lack of understanding, motivation or fatigue or poor motor coordination. 

Obsessions, compulsions and rituals

Are described as strong, irresistible urges that can result in difficulty in a person’s ability to cooperate, manage change to be flexible or adjust. 

Physical Aggression

Is using force that may cause harm or injury to another person and might include biting, kicking, pulling hair, scratching or throwing things.

Property Destruction

Involves behaviour where property or belongings are harmed, ruined or destroyed. 

Self-injury

Is an attempt or act of causing harm to oneself that is severe enough to cause damage. This can happen through headbanging, hitting, pinching or biting oneself, wound picking or other forms of self-harm.

Tantrums or meltdowns

Describe an emotional outburst that might involve crying, yelling screaming or defiant behaviour. The person might have difficulty calming down even after the desired outcome has been achieved.

 It is important to understand why the behaviour occurs and what purpose it serves, what we can call the “function” of the behaviour. Generally it can serve one of the following functions.

  • Obtaining a desired object or outcome
  • Escaping a task or situation
  • Getting attention
  • Trying to self-calm or feel good
  • Responding to pain or discomfort
  • Attempting to gain control of a situation

To solve behavioural concerns it is often helpful to understand what happens before and after a certain behaviour or by changing the situation or environment. And since behaviour is after all a form of communication, it is important to teach the child more adaptive and appropriate ways of communicating one’s needs or expressing one’s feelings. Without timely and proper intervention, challenging behaviours can get worse over time, so it is important to address them at the earliest. With the right guidance and intervention, children can develop the skills and tools to effectively express themselves.

If you are concerned about your child’s behaviour and need help, do not hesitate to reach out to our Specialists at Tactopus

Resource: Challenging Behaviours Toolkit By Autism Speaks

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