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Working on behaviour

If you want to change a behaviour, try these two behavioural principles:

  • If you reward a behaviour you will see more of it
  • If you ignore a behaviour you will see less of it

When trying to decrease an unwanted behaviour, it is important that you teach a new way of behaving appropriately at the same time. This will prevent other negative behaviours developing. To do this you will need to remove all rewards from the unwanted behaviour and look for ways to reward a behaviour that is wanted.

When to ignore

Ignore the individual when they interrupt you talking by asking for something, but respond immediately if they say ‘excuse me’. In this situation the individual will learn that they will only get the response they are seeking by saying ‘excuse me’ first.

In order to help the learning of new behaviours it is important that your response is clear and consistent, you must respond in the same way each time.

When to reward

Sometimes, the ‘reward’ for a behaviour is the attention you give to it. We can give attention to a behaviour in a number of ways including praising, giving rewards such as stickers / money, shouting, asking for explanations etc. Sometimes we do not even realise we are rewarding a behaviour because we are shouting or being negative to try and stop it. However, for a child, shouting or being negative still counts as attention and they may prefer that to being ignored. This may reinforce the behaviour rather than stopping it.

In an individual with ASD the picture can be even more confusing, for example if the individual prefers to spend time alone, using ‘time out’ as a punishment could be rewarding. It is therefore important that you take the individual into consideration when deciding on how to give or remove rewards for a behaviour. When managing an individual with ASD’s behaviour, it is important that you adapt your communication and this was discussed in an earlier section.
“The most valuable piece of advice I have gathered is to have patience, and to try and see things from their point of view.” (Sibling)

Making changes to a child’s environment can avoid many triggers for meltdowns; rather than trying to change the behaviour it can be more helpful to change the environment, e.g. if sensory issues are the cause of the unwanted behaviour.

“Making sure my son is not hungry stopped his challenging behaviour. It took a friend to notice and point it out to me. That was a few years ago. I did not feel bad, I just did not know, regular meals solved the problem.” (Parent)

The table below shows some possible environmental triggers and some changes you could consider.

 Issue  Proactive measure

Behaviour triggered by sensory stimuli such as noise, temperature changes

Reduce sensory stimuli, make a quiet space, avoid supermarkets at busy times etc.

Behaviour occurs around other people

Educate key people as to the needs of the individual with ASD, how to communicate, note sensitivities they may have

The response to behaviour varies from one to another

Have a clear plan around how to respond to the behaviour and ensure all key people follow the same plan

The environment is chaotic with lots of unpredictable changes

Try to develop a routine that is consistent and predictable

Some top tips for supporting your child with different behaviour

  • Be positive and praise good behaviour. Make sure praise is given immediately following the wanted behaviour. Use specific praise, clearly naming the wanted behaviour so that your child knows what you are praising them for.
  • Don’t try to change too much too soon. Tackle one or two things at a time and perhaps try to choose something which will be easier to change first.
  • Improve the way you communicate with your child (see section on Communication).
  • Help your child to understand and change their behaviours through, for example, social stories (see ‘Resources’ section at the end of this Guide) and explaining about other people’s thoughts and feelings.
  • Use calendars, sand timers and other visual information to help your child understand what’s happening when.
  • Plan ahead for activities and changes to routines (see section on managing change) find out what relaxes your child so that you can help them calm down.

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