How to Change Unwanted Behavior in Young People on the Autism Spectrum

“It is very frustrating not being able to change or modify the rigid behaviors that my son exhibits, for example, picky eating, rudeness to others, lack of motivation …just to name a few. Is there anything that can be done to help him be more open to change and flexibility?”

Most kids with High-Functioning Autism struggle with social skills, communication, and a limited diet, which can cause any of these issues:
  • behavioral problems
  • communication problems
  • desire for isolation
  • lack of incentive
  • sensory issues 
  • social problems
  • dropping into a state of depression, thus making the original problems that much worse

Social skills and living skills therapy may be the most popular areas of concentration when treating kids and teens (and even adults) with High-Functioning Autism. These therapies are widely available and do bring about effective progress in most cases.

Providing incentive is the key to improving your youngster’s circumstances. Actually, incentive is a factor anytime you are seeking to modify anyone’s unwanted behaviors. Incentive in itself is definitely an old concept, but using incentive in a new way will create the wanted result for your “special needs” son.

Old Incentive—

As moms and dads, we often use “set motivators” to achieve the behavior we feel is appropriate. The concentration has been placed on the behavior, which sets a negative tone to the process of change. You can’t blame a youngster for reacting negatively to a negative tone.
  • Punishment: “If you don’t do ______, then you will get ______!” We have all used this at one time or another, and over the course of time, it has proven to be an ineffective motivator.
  • Rewards or bribery: “If you do ______ today, I’ll buy you a ______.” We’re guilty of this one too. This probably creates more confusion and greed than incentive over time.

 ==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism

New Incentive—

Motivators should be positive. It feels good to see your youngster happily learning or cooperating in desired behaviors. Motivators that appeal to the individual boy or girl should be used for maximum results. Incentive is definitely personal. What motivates one youngster will not work for every youngster.
  • Positive reinforcement: Positive reinforcement is “catching” a child doing something you want them to do and rewarding it. The youngster gets attention and reward as positive reinforcement for doing the right thing and will focus on repeating that behavior. Positive reinforcement works because it gives kids positive goals to work towards instead of only focusing on negative consequences to avoid. Positive reinforcement fulfills strong basic psychological needs of every boy and girl, as well as setting a more positive and healthy tone for the parent-child relationship.
  • Routines: Keeping your youngster’s routines constant will improve his outlook. He’ll know what to expect at any given time, lessening the stress he feels.
  • Special Interests: Using your youngster’s special interests both at home and at school can generate positive responses in all situations. For example, your youngster’s love of trains can be used to encourage eating at home. Train themed dinnerware or even themed foods may be used to entice the reluctant eater.

By practicing positive reinforcement, establishing solid and consistent routines, and identifying special interests, you should be able to implement a social skills and living skills “parenting-plan” that will get the results that so desperately desire.

==> Are you experiencing a lot of behavior problems with your child on the autism spectrum? Get more solutions right here...


Anonymous said... Another thing to keep in mind is patience Rome was not built in a day : ) . It might take 21 days to eat that piece of brocoli or 2 years to master those social skills. Hang on to the picture in your mind of the finish line not the starting spot : )

Anonymous said... My 9 year old son has just been diagnosed with Aspergers is diet associated with it? That would explain why its so hard to get him to eat what is good for him

Anonymous said... I think it's the food texture or something that they seem to only prefer certain foods, which in my case, it's not very much. The older he gets though the more he tries and actually likes. He is 12.

Anonymous said... My son, who is 10, just tried a hamburger for the first time a few weeks ago. He had three bites before he decided he was done. I was so thrilled. It was such a major accomplishment for him! I know he probably wont touch another one for a very long time. But thats ok because he tried something new!!! Just keep showing him all of the good things you enjoy and he will decide when he is ready to try it.

Anonymous said... Couldn't agree anymore. I also literally "laughed out loud" when you said how thrilled you got, one of those "been there done that!!" I love those moments!!! :)

Anonymous said... I wanted to do the happy dance!! Every day is a struggle with food around here. I almost whooped out loud when he ate that burger! =)

Anonymous said… You will be able to work with it as they get older. Once they are old enough to understand that we all have certain norms to conform to, my son at least, has started to see the value in modifying his behavior. It's not perfect but who is! I love my son and he's found others who feel the same way along his path.

Anonymous said… Yes Bianca... very familiar. i've just read the article . very good read. and i think for us, we have to set a common strict routine he follows at both houses. i feel he needs that stability n consistency. he's a good, very intelligent kids, but unfortunately with bad habits we need to change. we have to work closely together for his sake.

Anonymous said… We deal with the exact same thing!

Anonymous said… Oh I hear you load and clear... My son is almost 15 and we deal with it every day!!!

Anonymous said… My son is going on 13. Only recently has the word Aspergers been mentioned regarding his 'issues'. All in all though, he is not an extreme case. So it's hard to actually "diagnose". But what I want to share it that all through the years of speech therapy for Apraxia, we never treated him any different than we would any other child. He had the same responsibilities, demands, chores, and punishments as his brother. The biggest difference was how we presented it to him. He needed to understand the logic of why he was being asked. And the logic behind the punishments - letting him know upfront what his punishment would be if he did not do something. This goes with behaviour of all sorts. From what I understand, these children have to be taught to think and feel like we do. "taught" is the key word here. They will not 'feel' it like we do, but they can be taught. Reinforce everything you ask them to do and follow through. It takes a lot of time, but time will reward you. I sometimes have to ask him, was that the correct way to behave, speak, act? He'll hang his head and say no... So than I ask, what was the better way. He'll answer, I'll confirm, and we'll practice it the proper way. I hope this little bit helps.

Anonymous said… My son is 3 and a half and everything is no these day's, putting our foot down is met with a violent outburst that doesn't stop until something distracts him if we get angry it only makes him worse. He is still young and our first so we're still getting to grips with parenting let alone parenting an aspergers child but sometimes (we'll most times) he's hitting, kicking us we don't know what to do, he won't stop and will chase us down if we try to get away, will not stay in his room, couldn't care less about taking things away he just keeps going and we're at a total loss on how to deal with it.

Anonymous said… I knew we were making progress using the Masgutova Method when once I had to change what we were doing and he let out a huge sigh, thought about it and then said ok.

Anonymous said… i feel very much the same way. I too have more than 1 under the same roof. Definitely 3 maybe 4. My 10 yr old sounds very much like your daughter with the mood swings and the foul mouth. She too used to be so quiet and easy going ( maybe that was a sign) but she's undergoing many tests at the moment because she has many difficulties dealing with everyday routines and socially. My question is; how do we manage a home with so many different needs. How do we make sure all their needs are being met and nobody is left behind. I feel like I'm not doing a good job at this anymore!

Anonymous said… Familiar?

Anonymous said…  hmm sounds like my 15 yr daughter not flexible at all, very rude to others, picking eating seems to eat the same thing all the time, lack of motivation. I have a 18 yr son who also has it but he actually got better with age but my daughter it has been a total nightmare. The rigid behaviors, the complusive behaviors the other morning instead of getting dress for school she emptys her dresser drawers and starts to refold each one in a certain way and piles it on her bed. But she never finish because I told her she had to stop go get dress if she has time before the bus comes she can finish but this is something she can do on the weekends or no school day. So frustrating and the she takes 3 outfits to the bathroom to get dressed and leaves them all the bathroom floor and her room was a big mess. So she thinks she is doing something good like organizing but instead she made things worst a bigger mess. Then you add bipolar into the mix you got one moody child like walking on egg shells or riding a roller coaster ride. I dread after school time as it is the worst time for her. She will walk in good mood then boom 5 min later better watch out. The mouth on her and the swearing, rude and disrespectful. She use to be this sweet little girl now you don't know who she going to be next. She is in the hate my mom and dad. She tells me I am kick the F out tells me I am dead, etc She has in home therapist and crisis worker too. If it wasn't for working out the gym I don't know how I would deal with my daily stress. 3 bipolars under one roof, daughter, son and husband. Then add both of them with PDD-nos, anxiety, adhd. I didn't think I would have to go thru this with her. I went thru this with my son for many years but as he got older he got better he was very aggressive when he was younger. Been inpatient 11 times from ages 7 to 11 half. My daughter had 2 inpatients this year never been in the hospital before that. But they seem to hold together there and would never show there behaviors there. They know how to play them and how to get out of there if they behave they can go home. These kids are not dumb they are smart in so many other ways.

Anonymous said... You have to put your foot down. Yes they have certain issues but you have to make it clear that certain behavior will not be tolerated. They good things is many times they are so rule orentied that my son now all I have to do is talk sternly or give him a very stern NO. But we have been very strick with him for 2-3 years now. He is 8. Just because they have "issues" don't mean you excuse disrespect. As far as the food with my son if he doesn't way what we serve him he doesn't eat. It sounds harsh but he eats his dinner. It's not going to kill him

Anonymous said... Some things we should insist upon, but I believe it's important to pick our battles. After all many of our kids have issues with self esteem so punishing them all day long can cause even more damage. Disrespectful behavior and behavior that is self harming or harming to others of course should not be tolerated. Positive reinforcement can work wonders.

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