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Creating Successful Behavior Charts for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

Behavior charts consist of two primary components: (1) parental expectations (e.g., doing chores, behaving, handling self-care tasks, etc.) and (2) the reward for meeting such expectations.

Behavior charts can be very effective in getting kids to do what moms and dads want. But often times, parents find that their Aspergers or high-functioning autistic (HFA) children don't respond to charts – either because the concept is too abstract, or the gratification is too delayed. Adjusting and simplifying the chart to your youngster’s particular needs and abilities can make the difference between success and failure with this particular parenting technique.

Here's how to successfully employ behavior charts for children on the autism spectrum:

1. Be sure to have plenty of consistency, patience and a willingness to try new ideas.

2. Coupons for desired activities (or avoidance of undesired ones) can serve as a good tangible reward for behavior-chart goals. Try pre-made printable coupons (see below) or create some of your own.

3. Don't load up the chart with unrealistic items you'd like your youngster to complete (e.g., making all A’s on the next report card). A couple “big goals” are fine every now and then, but make sure there are some things he is already doing on a regular basis, and a couple of very easy things that will always earn some points or check marks no matter what. Add one "miscellaneous" category for rewarding random acts of good behavior.

4. Don't offer anything you can't deliver. Big trips or large toys are risky promises. Losing them will be a negative experience for your youngster if he doesn't succeed in earning enough points, and they may be hard for you to deliver reliably. If your youngster is earning an allowance, put the money aside early in the week so you'll be sure to deliver on payday.

5. Figure out a reasonable time period for your youngster to go without a reward. For a very young child, or one with severe behavior issues, it may be as little as 15 minutes. Let your youngster know that for every 15 minutes of appropriate behavior, she will get a reward (e.g., a sticker on a piece of paper, a small snack, a coin, etc.). If the behavior during any specific increment doesn't measure up, the reward is missed, but the time resets and the next increment of time is open for change.

6. If your youngster makes a partial attempt at something (e.g., doing a chore), but does not completely follow through (e.g., he made his bed, but didn’t pick up his clothes off the floor), make sure he always gets some sort of reward. The idea here is to be positive about successes. Offer a descending scale of rewards for points attained (e.g., smaller amounts of money, reduced time to play computer games, etc.). If your youngster can work with you on this, set up the rewards together and agree on them. Put the possibilities on the chart.

7. If your youngster is not always able to do the items on the chart without help, then increase the number of points available for that task, and award them according to effort (e.g., if your youngster has trouble getting dressed in the mornings, you might award 5 points if he does it himself, 3 points if you just have to help a little, and 1 point if you have to get him dressed - but he cooperates). In this way, you're able to make a positive experience out of almost any outcome.

8. If your youngster just doesn't "get" a chart with points or checkmarks, try putting happy faces or stickers on the chart for successful results – or skip the chart idea entirely and devise another method of tracking your youngster’s successful moments (e.g., put pennies in a jar, add beads to a string, add Legos to a Lego tower, add rubber bands to a rubber-band ball, etc.). Anything that involves “adding on” to something will work.

9. Make the chart all about rewarding positive behavior – not penalizing negative behavior. Make a big deal about putting points up - or checking items off. Don't apply blame for items not checked. The chart is an opportunity to get extra credit for things done right.

10. Most behavior charts are intended to improve your youngster's performance over time, or provide weekly motivators for meeting your expectations. Sometimes, though, you need to reward behavior in the short-term (e.g., making it through a church service, surviving a mall trip, etc.). Using a chart to break down the activity into small reward-able units of time can make it easier for your youngster to get it done.

11. Reviewing the chart every night gives you an opportunity to provide positive feedback for jobs well done. If your youngster responds best to short-term rewards, you might give something like a sticker for a minimum of points earned. At the end of the week, the stickers can be "cashed-in" for bigger rewards.

12. Some Aspergers and HFA children are highly motivated by an allowance. For them, the pay-off at the end of the week should be in cash. Establish the amount in advance and put it on the chart. If money isn't motivating, find something that is (e.g., small toy, fast-food lunch, computer game time, a "get out of time-out free" card, etc.). Be creative and find the things your youngster really craves, not the things that would make sense to you.

13. Your youngster's abilities and your family's needs change, thus the chart should change too. Do this in collaboration with your son or daughter when possible. Add new chores as your youngster's abilities increase, and eliminate things he is rarely successful at. Keep brainstorming new rewards and new methods of earning them. The secret to a good behavior chart is making sure your youngster is always able to earn points – and excited about doing so.

14. Decide on a couple things you would most like done "better" by your youngster (e.g., putting shoes away, sharing toys with siblings, helping with chores when asked, good routine when getting ready for bed, etc.). With a permanent marker, write or draw these points on the side of the chart. Then write or draw the acceptable reward you are happy to offer for compliance.

15. Don’t forget about behavior at school. Ask your youngster's teacher to send home a behavior report every day. If necessary, send in a simple form that can be checked off quickly. Award points based on performance. Make a big deal of putting these points on the chart, but if your youngster has a bad day, don't make a big deal of not adding them. Simply wish him better luck tomorrow.

Making a Behavior Chart from Scratch—

1. Write out a list of goals you would like to place on the behavior chart. These might be chores, behavior modifications, or every day habits. Whatever you decide, make a “top five list” of priorities to place on the chart.

2. Open up a word-processing program (e.g., Microsoft Word) or calculation software (e.g., Microsoft Excel). Use a simple chart or graph template of your choosing to make your behavior chart. If you do not find one, you can simply draw one in Word or freehand with a marker.

3. At the side of the chart, make five sections and label each section with one of your goals. For example, "Clean Room" can be section one, "Courteous to Siblings" can be section two, "Sharing Toys" can be section three, etc. On the top of the chart list the date of the month, or just leave it blank. Make rows of squares next to each section so columns are formed with approximately 10-30 squares in each row.

4. Shop with your youngster to pick out stickers to be used as a reward. Getting him/her involved with the creation of the chart – as well as the goal reaching – can really make a strong and positive impact. Choose stickers that are brightly colored or feature your youngster's favorite characters. Place a sticker on the chart every time a good behavior is completed.

5. Decide what the reward will be once a row on the good behavior chart is filled. Note these rewards somewhere on the chart, ideally along the bottom or below the graph. Make your reward intentions clear from the start, so a youngster will not expect too much or think too little of the behavior chart. Brainstorm with your youngster to come up with goal deadlines and rewards.

6. Tack or tape the good behavior chart in a visible, common area of the home. This may be the kitchen, living room or hallway. Encourage other family members to verbally praise the youngster when a sticker is earned, or a goal is near completion. Create a new good behavior chart with fresh goals once the current ones are achieved.

Highly Acclaimed Parenting Programs Offered by Online Parent Support, LLC:

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

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


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Motives Behind Behavior: Parents’ Analytical Approach

"How can we as parents possibly know the difference between unwanted behavior as a result of the traits of the disorder versus behavior that is simply a form of tantrumming?"

When your child with Aspergers or High Functioning Autism (HFA) begins to act out, it often looks like misbehavior, sounds like misbehavior, and certainly feels like misbehavior. But for many kids on the autism spectrum, “misbehavior” (e.g., lying, acting-out, tantrums, disrespect, and other signs of apparent disobedience) may have more to do with typical autism-related traits (e.g., lack of communication skills, motor clumsiness, sensory sensitivities, cause-and-effect thinking, etc.) than with deliberate malicious intent.

This DOES NOT mean you have to allow “out-of-control behavior” as just another fact of your parenting an Aspergers or HFA child. Your youngster still needs to learn acceptable behavior to be safe and successful. It DOES mean, though, that you're going to have to look at things from a different angle.

In order to (a) differentiate between “misbehavior and “autism-related behavior” and (b) successfully address both, consider the following suggestions:

1. To start with, you'll want to narrow your focus to one particular behavior to analyze and change. Although it's tempting, don't just choose the thing that most annoys you. A better choice will be something that particularly puzzles you. For example:
  • Why can your youngster do math just fine some days, and balks on other days?
  • Why does he insist on punishment even when it upsets him?
  • Why does he get so wound up and wild?
  • Why is your youngster sweet and compliant sometimes, then resists to the point of tantrum over something inconsequential?

As long as you're going to be a detective, you might as well give yourself a good mystery. While you're stalking one behavior, you may need to let others slide, unless it's a matter of safety. Don't try to change everything all at once.

2. Next, keep a journal (or if it is a frequently occurring behavior, keep a chart) for noting every incidence of the targeted behavior. Include the time of day the behavior occurred, and what happened before, during, and after. Think of what might have happened directly before the behavior, and also earlier in the day. Think, too, of what happened directly after the behavior, and whether it offered the youngster any reward (even negative attention can be rewarding if the alternative is no attention at all). Ask yourself the following questions. Does the behavior tend to:
  • be more frequent during a certain time of day?
  • occur after a certain event?
  • occur during transitions?
  • occur in anticipation of something happening?
  • occur when routine is disrupted?
  • occur when something happens - or doesn't happen?
  • occur when things are very noisy or very busy?

Keep track over the course of a few weeks and look for patterns.

3. It may seem as though your youngster saves his worst behavior for public places, where it causes you the most embarrassment. But there may be a reason for that. Ask yourself the following question:
  • Does he have a hard time resisting touching and banging things like buttons or doors?
  • Does he have trouble in places where he needs to stay still and quiet (e.g., church)?
  • Does he resist places where children may be cruel (e.g., the bus, playground)?
  • Does he panic in places that are busy and noisy (e.g., the mall)?
  • Does he shy away from places with strong smells or bright lights?
  • Is there something about any particular place that might be distressing?

Notice reactions to different environments and add these insights to your journal or chart.

4. You can stubbornly insist that your youngster is responsible for his own behavior, but you're liable to be waiting a long time for the behavior changes you want to see. While you may find some behaviors annoying, disruptive, or inappropriate, it may be filling a need for your youngster. And even if your youngster is genuinely unhappy about the negative consequences of his behavior, he may not understand it enough to control it.
==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

In the end, it is far easier for YOU to change (e.g., your expectations, actions, reactions, responses, etc.) than for your youngster to change. You will need to do some detective work to determine the support your youngster needs to improve his behavior, and provide it. Ultimately, you can teach your youngster to do this for himself. But you have to lead the way.

5. Take the data from your journal or chart (e.g., patterns you've discovered, observations on environments, etc.) and see if you can figure out what's behind the behavior. For example:
  • Maybe he balks at math when he sees too many problems on the page.
  • Maybe he begs for punishment because going to his room feels safer than dealing with a challenging situation.
  • Maybe he explodes over something inconsequential because he's used up all his patience weathering frustrations earlier in the day.
  • Maybe he gets wound up because “being good” gets him no attention.

Once you have a working theory, make some changes in your youngster's environment to make it easier for him to behave. For example:
  • Give your youngster lots of attention when he's being good - and none at all for bad behavior (other than just a quick and emotionless timeout).
  • If your child’s worksheet has too many problems, fold it to expose only a row at a time, or cut a hole in a piece of paper and use it as a window to show only one or two problems at once.
  • Instead of being happy that your youngster seems to be handling frustrating situations, provide support earlier in the day so that his patience will hold out longer.
  • Recognize situations your child feels challenged by - and offer an alternative between compliance and disobedience.

You may not always guess right the first time, and not every change you try will work. Effective moms and dads will have a big bag of tricks they can keep digging into until they find the one that works that day, that hour, that minute. But analyzing behavior and strategizing solutions will help you feel more in control of your family, and your youngster will feel safer and more secure. This alone often cuts down on a lot of “misbehavior.”

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


•    Anonymous said… I feel this article was posted just for 6yr olds behaviour baffles me to no end and need advice
•    Anonymous said… I get so many comments of "you don't discipline your child!" People just don't understand.
•    Anonymous said… I get that from family a lot. I understand my son and use these moments to teach rather than control. It's quite frustrating, but my son is worth more than the peanut gallery and their opinions.!
•    Anonymous said… If anyone isn't happy with the way I handle my child they are welcome to take over the job. Except he's gone now, he's an adult, and he takes care of himself very well.
•    Anonymous said… My family don't understand me (NT) and hubby and daughter (ADHD/AS) for the way they do. "You got problems" as they quoted. Sure we have problems but we get counseling to HELP us move forward, understanding AS. If I didn't understand AS, I would have divorced hubby!
•    Anonymous said… Thank you for sharing this article. Wonderful advice.
•    Anonymous said… This is so true…and the peanut gallery can be overwhelming at times! Pick your battles. Nobody will fully understand unless you live it.
•    Db2TN said... This is a really helpful reminder to stop and evaluate what might be causing a "bad mood". I know most of my son's triggers, but when I am tired or distracted, can forget to do a quick internal check before reacting or trying to help him. There are times, though, when a spell of negativity or irritation can be baffling - just before Christmas break started, he was in that place. I wondered if just the anticipation of Christmas, as well as the upcoming lack of our usual routine was looming large. Turns out he was very nervous about a Dr's appointment which wound up going much better than he expected, and he was just fine after that. So now I need to add that potential to my mental checklist. But thanks for this article, it's such a help to receive new ideas and reminders of things I already know!  Thanks for this reminder to do a mental checklist before responding - or reacting - to a "bad mood". I'm familiar with most of my son's triggers, but a new one popped up recently, and it took getting through the event he was dreading before I realized that's what was causing the issue. New one to add to the list! I appreciate your articles so much - very helpful to get new ideas or be reminded of things already known or experienced!
•    Jacqui said... My three year old hasn't been officially diagnosed as of yet. We are in the loop to get tested. She has seen a couple people so far, and they are both on the fence with her. She may or may not have Asperger's.This is an awesome post. I am still learning her triggers to behavior. Christmas was a huge issue for us. And I had to find ways to tone it down. Slowly I am learning triggers. But it sounds like a life long process.

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You've Just Discovered Your Child has an Autism Spectrum Disorder – Now What?!

There is really no other way to begin this journey other than immersing yourself in your youngster's treatment. While it may be painful to say goodbye to the youngster you thought you had (i.e., a “typical” child with “quirks” rather than some “disorder”), you can say hello now to the youngster who needs you just as much - if not more - as you get to know his unique personality and development, and you can fall in love with your newly-diagnosed youngster with high-functioning autism (HFA) or Asperger's (AS) all over again in ways you could have never imagined.

In the beginning, be sure to look at your grief. It doesn't help to pretend to be positive when underneath you may be lonely, afraid or sad. The longing for the typical youngster or a typical existence may endure. You have to learn to live with that yearning.

Take some breaks for yourself. Your child’s treatment is important – but it isn't everything! As you get involved in the autism community, your isolation will lessen. Granted, it is not what you were expecting, but just like your youngster, it can be very rewarding and meaningful.

The initial period of learning about the disorder and all of the necessary therapies and treatments can be isolating. We, as parents, are also often sad at first, or angry that our life with a youngster who has an autism spectrum disorder is different than the one we dreamed of and different than the lives of most of those we see around us. Our ideal world is often very different from the world we actually live in. Still, there are many ways to work towards making your life more of how you want it to be.

Depending upon the functioning level of your youngster, there are many parent groups to join, special sports teams to coach, and class activities that you can be a part of. Sometime the issue reflects difficulty in accepting who your youngster is with his specific challenges and abilities. It may not feel normal or coincide with the dream you had for how your life would turn out.

As you begin to get more involved in the autism community, there will be more activity and company of others. This involvement often helps to make moms and dads feel more normal as it ironically provides more chances for typical activity and interaction with others. Over time, life and ideals change, and you will begin to dream new dreams for your real world.

It seems we always want the ones we love the most to understand us …our feelings, our life choices, our kids. Sometimes this is way more difficult than we would wish. Keep in mind that you are the expert on your youngster, and you know the best ways to deal with him. The truth is, if you are doing the best you can, you really don't have to prove anything to other family members or to anybody else.

In time, other family members will develop their own relationship with your "special needs" child and will hopefully follow your lead on some of the important learning and relationship issues. If you find that other family members and friends are negative around your child, or act in ways that negate his growth or self-esteem, then you may want to limit their interaction while you gently model more helpful ways to deal with your child and continue to share new or interesting articles/information on HFA or AS. This heartfelt process often takes longer than we think it should – steady persistence is paramount.

Note: Acceptance-levels vary among parents. When their child is recently diagnosed, some parents come to acceptance almost immediately -- and even feel a sense of relief that there is a name for what has been going on. Other parents need more time to arrive at acceptance, and that's O.K. Then there are a few parents who seem to never accept the fact that their child has special needs and struggle with the diagnosis for a life-time.

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

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

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


•    Anonymous said... Well said. We were in the first group. Our first son is "neurotypical" and second has Asperger's. It's been a challenge @ times, but often times, they bring out the best in all of us. I wouldn't change it for the world!
•    Anonymous said... my son is 6yr and he has aspergers and adhd. his two brother (one older and one younger) dont understand really. but its fine. i wouldnt want it any other way. seeing what he has been thru gives me strength for my goals to go back to school.
•    Anonymous said... I actually felt relief when I recently got my 14 yr old daughters diagnosis .... It was my moment of of saying I was right all along
•    Anonymous said...I also had a "whew!" moment because I was convinced her issues stemmed from lack of parenting ability. I tried so many different things and she just didn't respond normally at all. when we got the diagnosis it all made sense, even if it didn't change her behavior, it changed the way we interpreted it and that has made so much difference.
•    Anonymous said... No grief here,well,not much that is.Always knew she was very special even before birth.It is however a very big job.Holidays are not much fun as she is very anxious.
•    Anonymous said... It has been just over a year since diagnosis. It took awhile to accept and I am not sure that I have truly accepted it. There are days that are difficult but there are also days where I things run smoothly. D is such an amazing boy with talents and skills that mesmerize me all the time. He sees things differently and he challenges me all the time. But , he is a gift my gift
•    Anonymous said... My 19 year old daughter went undiagnosed her whole life, until a doctor mentioned that there was a high possibility that she had Asperger's. I was really confused and denied that she was handicapped. But surprisingly, my daughter went and researched everything about the disorder, and she seemed to finally be at peace with her past troubles and trauma in public school (she was bullied). She found some clarity as to why she was so different back then and now. So if she accepts it, I'm learning to accept it too. I love my children no matter what happens and will always support them 100%, even if one of them needs a little more assistance in life.
•    Anonymous said... I have just had the diagnosis this week so a bit unsure what happens now. Would appreciate any guidance and also my child is 7 do things get more challenging or stay the same.
•    Karla Velazquez said... I have half a year with the knowledge that the school psephologist diagnosed my son with the aspergers syndrome, but now what he is in special needs class but that does not really help at home I dont know how to work with him properly and I am dont have any resources here. What do I do next to get help? I have 6 months now with the diagnoses that my 6 year old has aspergers according to the school physiologist but I dont know what the next step is. He is in a special needs class but that does not change the behavior at home I dont know what the next step is if any one can help

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My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

Click here to read the full article…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

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to read the full article...

Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...

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