Teaching ASD Children to Self-Manage Their Behavior

 "I need some useful behavior management strategies for a very out of control 6 yo boy with autism (high functioning). Thanks in advance!"

Teaching kids with ASD or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) to manage their own behavior allows parents to spend less time dealing with challenging behaviors at home. Managing your own behavior is called self-control. Self-control skills are used to help HFA children to pay attention to their own behavior. These young people can learn to monitor their own behavior and control their own actions through using self-control techniques. 

In order to help a child on the autism spectrum learn to monitor his own behavior, parents should ask themselves the following questions:
  • Are there any factors or challenges that my youngster faces that need to be considered before implementing a self-control plan?
  • Is my youngster able to make an accurate self-assessment of his behavior?
  • What goals do I have for my youngster in using a self-control plan?
  • What is it that interests or engages my youngster that may be used to begin a self-control program?
  • What is my youngster’s current level of self-control?

How to teach HFA children to manage their own behavior:

1. Parents should assess their youngster’s current level of self-control to accurately report on her behavior. For instance, the parent may ask the youngster as she sits watching television, “Did you pick up your dirty clothes and put them in the laundry basket?” If the parent has just seen that the dirty clothes have not been put in the basket, yet the child responds that she did put them in the basket, the parent will know that her youngster currently does not accurately “assess” her behavior.

It’s easier to have a child assess behaviors around activities in which she is currently engaged. Some kids may not be able to accurately assess their own behaviors and may need to be taught how to self-assess prior to using a self-control program. Parents may need to teach their child to correctly report if she did or didn’t perform a task that the parent asked about (e.g., doing chores, completing homework, etc.).

2. Parents can identify what observable behaviors they want their youngster to learn to self-manage. Each step needs to clearly describe what the youngster should do. For instance, your son may be taught that when told to “get ready for dinner,” he should stop playing computer games, wash his hands, and take a seat at the dinner table.

3.  Once the behaviors have been identified, they are visually displayed for the youngster using photographs or drawings on a poster. The youngster is given a way to monitor her behaviors using a checklist or chart that shows the activity with a place to indicate whether she performed the step correctly (using a check mark, smiley face, sticker, thumbs up/thumbs down, etc.). Parents can laminate the chart or checklist and use a wipe-off marker so that it is reusable.

The goal of the chart or checklist is to teach the youngster how to independently engage in appropriate behavior – not to punish or withhold activities. It can be used to chart special activities that the youngster earns. Oftentimes, kids on the autism spectrum respond well to the use of an earned “special” activity if they complete the chart (e.g., having time on the computer). If the self-control chart includes a special activity, the youngster can choose the special activity. A visual representation (e.g., a photo or picture cut out from a catalog or magazine) of the special activity can then be placed on the chart as a reminder of what the youngster can earn when the chart is complete.

4.  The youngster is taught to engage in the desired behaviors and then to monitor his performance. Once the chart is prepared, the parent should review the chart with the youngster after the activity has occurred. The parent can review the steps that are listed on the chart and explain how the youngster’s performance will be marked (e.g., “The first picture shows ‘I put my dirty clothes in the laundry basket’. If you put your clothes in the basket, we are going to place a smiley face on the chart. If you did not put your clothes in the basket, we will not place a smiley face on the chart. Let’s see what happened. Did you put your clothes in the basket? Yes, you did. We can put a smiley face on the chart.”).

Once parents have reviewed the system with the youngster and they believe the youngster understands it, they should try it out the next time the activity occurs. During the activity, parents can remind their youngster of the behaviors on the chart. When the activity is over, they can help him mark the chart.

5.  Parents should provide positive attention or feedback to their youngster while she is learning self-control. When parents give their youngster feedback for using the chart, they should praise her for engaging in the behavior and the accuracy of her ability to self-manage. Over time, parents can gradually provide less assistance for using the chart. The goal will be to get the youngster to use the chart independently until she does the behavior easily and no longer needs the self-control system.

Self-control skills are designed to teach autistic kids how to engage in appropriate behavior, independently. Over time, parents should decrease their assistance and support their child to use self-control skills independently. If the youngster misses a step or does not complete the chart, parents can gently redirect him to complete the step and encourage him to try harder the following day or during the next activity.

When methods to teach self-control skills are carefully implemented, positive changes in behavior can be expected. Self-control skills are most effective when parents implement the self-control program systematically and monitor their youngster’s progress. When an autistic youngster has difficulty with the process or is not making progress, the self-control system should be reviewed, and additional instruction or new procedures should be implemented.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD

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