Behaviour management strategies for kids with autism spectrum disorder

Setting boundaries is important in any home. 

Clear, fair and consistent boundaries strengthen your relationship with your children, forming the basis for a childhood based on love, respect and fun.

When it comes to reinforcing those boundaries, children can react differently.

For children with autism, there are strategies for making this process as compassionate and supportive as possible.

Before you discipline, understand your child

It’s easy for parents to adopt traditional behaviour management techniques they are used to from their own childhoods, or even ones they see their friends and peers use with their children.

What is the best strategy for other people, may not be the right fit for you and your family.

In some cases, these can do more harm than good – however, this doesn’t mean you should avoid creating boundaries.

It’s good to do your research and understand your child’s behaviours to get an idea of what might be causing them to act out. A psychologist, occupational therapist or behaviour analyst can be a great source of support in this area.

This can help you set and enforce boundaries with your children, to find the right one for you.

Common behaviours to keep an eye on

Common behaviours to keep an eye on

Children can act out in various ways when they are dysregulated or struggling with their emotions, or when they are overwhelmed with something that is happening in their environment or social situation.

This can include hitting someone, or intentionally breaking an item while you’re watching. 

It’s important to understand that a child living with autism spectrum disorder may not have complete control over their physical actions.

This needs to be taken into account when needing to enforce boundaries, and what the most effective way to do so.

Sometimes this can be difficult for a parent or caregiver to understand at first, but it’s an important starting point in recognising the complexities of autism and discipline.

Here are some other behaviours that are common in children on the autism spectrum:

  • Intentionally biting their hands, fingers or arms.
  • Other self-harm activities like headbanging.
  • Shouting and yelling.
  • Aggressive outbursts, including physical aggression towards adults.
  • Hand flapping, repetitive movements and self-stimulating behaviours – these are known as stimming. Read our blog on stimming to find out more about how to respond to these behaviours.

 Why are rules and discipline important for children with autism?

Rules and boundaries are important to establish for children living with autism. 

Research suggests many parents tend to give children with autism more leeway when it comes to challenging behaviour. 

This can stem from a belief that by enforcing boundaries they are causing some psychological damage.

Healthy parenting ensures a safe and respectful family environment for all members. 

Effective boundaries provide structure and predictability, but this won’t look the same for every family.

It helps children understand the consequences of their behaviours and actions, and help them understand cause and effect in relatable ways.

Autism behaviour management strategies

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Autism behaviour support strategies will look different to traditional methods of discipline or parenting.

Effective behaviour support requires a deep understanding of your child’s behaviours, abilities, and needs. 

This will assist you to manage your own emotions and expectations, and quickly adapt to different situations. 

1. Give clear, short instructions

Children with autism respond positively to clear and succinct directions which address the activity or challenging behaviour they’re engaging in. 

In the moment, focus on telling them to stop – try to avoid explaining the consequences of their actions in long and difficult to understand sentences.

2. Use positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement clearly defines and communicates positive or desired behaviours.

When you communicate with children, you should let them know when they’ve done something well or done the right thing.

This can be a powerful tool (whether they’re on the autism spectrum or not), and can help turn positive results into regular behaviour over time. 

By praising desired behaviours, children learn through positivity, rather than negativity.

 3. Engage in self-calming activities

Staying calm in times of stress can be challenging for both parent and child. 

Nurturing a stress-free environment by actively engaging in self-calming activities like meditation, listening to soft music, or simply having a rest can greatly improve a tense situation.

This will help give you a feel for when your child needs to take some time out and observe some quiet time. 

As a parent or caregiver, it’s good to nurture this awareness to better predict their behaviour and implement the right coping strategies where necessary.

 4. Enforce routine, structure and familiarity

Research shows everyday predictable routines play an important role in giving your child consistency.

A family routine gives parents the chance to give their child responsibility for various tasks where they can have a sense of achievement.

It’s also important that all children feel they have a voice and can contribute in meaningful ways, otherwise, this can result in feelings of jealousy from other children.

  5. Practice patience

Autism behaviour support strategies have their challenges, and practising patience with their behaviour and your response is vital for their success. 

This is especially important when behaviours are not dangerous to themselves or others.

Practising patience can be hard, especially during challenging situations – if you find yourself struggling, there are resources for support you can use.

We’re here for you.

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There are many things you can do to help your child with autism thrive. 

Early Start’s network of clinics and child behaviour therapists are experienced in helping parents understand autism in children and are ready to assist you. 

Our friendly team is available to answer any questions you may have and when you’re ready, reach out to Early Start to book an appointment.

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