Autism refers to a group of a pervasive developmental and behavioral disorders or PDD. It is estimated that about 1.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with Autism, or one child out of every 110. Boys are most commonly affected than girls.
If you are living with a child diagnosed with autism, it can present many challenges in your day to day living. Because children with autism have brains that are wired differently, their behavior often doesn’t make sense to the rest of the world. Repetitive action, staring into space or doing something in a preferential order or way are some marks of autism. However, if the behavior becomes harmful or becomes an issue of safety, then it needs to be changed.
Here are some approaches you can take to change behavior in kids with autism.
- Determine the behavior that needs to be changed. There are probably a lot of little things that are driving you crazy, but choose your battles wisely. If a behavior is harmful to him or to other people, then prioritize that. You may need to forgo controlling his other actions. Accept that there are only so many things that you can modify. For example, if your child is able to eat by himself with using a fork for five minutes, consider that a success, compared to if he constantly wanders around for the entire duration of the meal.
- Have a structure. Routines bring order to the life of an autistic child. If you are trying to change a behavior, incorporate it as part of the routine. It will take several tries before he takes to it. You will need to notify the child beforehand of any upcoming changes in his schedule or regular pattern to give him time to prepare for it.
- Be consistent. If your child is doing something that is unsafe or unacceptable, you must be consistent in correcting the behavior. Although it’s draining to keep on reprimanding and constantly having to keep an eye out, it must be done. Repetitive behavior is something your child can understand so don’t veer away from what you say you will do. Make sure that all caregivers of your child know your rules so they can enforce it even in your absence.
- Provide a replacement. You cannot remove all behaviors but you can try to channel it towards something else. For example, if your child likes to climb the bookshelf, which is very unsafe, you may need to instead bring him to the park so that he can climb the juggle gym instead. If he likes to bang his fist on floor, give him a set of toy drums instead.
- Talk to your child. Depending on the level or degree of your child’s autism, you should be able to explain to your child why he needs to change a specific behavior. For example, tell him it is not safe to climb the bookshelf because he can injure himself. He may not seem receptive to you, but do it anyway. Be firm and consistent.
Dealing with an autistic child takes extra attention. For more information, check out autismspeaks.org.