Addressing Autism Behavior Problems

Navigate autism behavior problems, from understanding stimming to managing challenges in social settings.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
April 1, 2024

Addressing Autism Behavior Problems

Understanding Autism Stimming

One of the key aspects of autism behavior problems that often comes under focus is 'stimming'. Stimming, or self-stimulatory behavior, is a common characteristic among individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

What is Autism Stimming

Autism stimming refers to behaviors that involve repetitive movements, sounds, or words. These behaviors are a way for individuals with autism to self-soothe, focus, or express overwhelming feelings. Examples of stimming behaviors include rocking back and forth, pacing in circles, flapping hands rapidly, or even repeating certain words or phrases.

It's important to understand that stimming is a part of the individual's coping mechanism and not a form of misbehavior. Individuals with ASD often demonstrate these behaviors when they are upset, frustrated, scared, or anxious [1].

Causes of Autism Stimming

Stimming in autism is often linked to sensory sensitivities. Autistic individuals may either overreact or underreact to sounds, lights, smells, and touch. For instance, an individual might stim by covering their ears in response to loud noises, or they may engage in hand-flapping to cope with excitement or stress.

In some cases, stimming behaviors can be a way for the individual to deal with social communication difficulties. For example, avoiding eye contact, a common form of stimming, can be a way to decrease unpleasant sensations caused by brain overactivation.

It's essential for caregivers and others interacting with individuals with autism to recognize these behaviors as part of the autism spectrum and not as intentional misbehavior. Understanding the underlying causes of stimming can help in providing appropriate support and interventions.

Autism and Sensory Sensitivities

Sensory sensitivities are a common aspect of autism behavior problems, and can have a significant impact on the individuals and their families. People with autism can experience both hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity to a wide range of stimuli, and each autistic person has their unique set of sensory sensitivities.

Hypersensitivity in Autism

Hypersensitivity, or over-responsiveness, can manifest in many different ways in people with autism. It can involve an intense reaction to certain stimuli that might seem normal to others. For example, many autistic people experience hypersensitivity to bright lights or certain light wavelengths, such as LED or fluorescent lights. Certain sounds, smells, textures, and tastes can also be overwhelming. These hypersensitivities can significantly affect their daily lives and may require specific management strategies to help them cope [3].

Common Hypersensitivities in Autism Description
Lights Sensitivity to bright lights or specific light wavelengths
Sounds Certain sounds may be overwhelming
Smells Some smells may be too intense
Textures Certain tactile sensations may be uncomfortable
Tastes Some flavors may be too strong

Hyposensitivity in Autism

On the other hand, hyposensitivity, or under-responsiveness, is also common in autistic individuals. This can involve a lack of reaction to sensory inputs that others typically find noticeable. A person with hyposensitivity might show a constant need for movement, difficulty recognizing sensations like hunger or pain, or attraction to loud noises, bright lights, and vibrant colors. This undersensitivity to certain stimuli can also pose challenges in daily life and may need specific strategies to manage [3].

Common Hyposensitivities in Autism Description
Movement Constant need for movement
Bodily sensations Difficulty recognizing sensations like hunger or pain
Loud noises, bright lights, vibrant colors Attraction to intense sensory inputs

These sensory sensitivities can affect not just the individual with autism, but also their families and their experiences at school or work. Occupational therapists can assess these sensory sensitivities and develop a plan to help manage them, supporting those with autism in navigating their environments more comfortably.

Comorbid Conditions in Autism

In the context of autism, it is not uncommon for individuals to have one or more comorbid conditions. These are additional health issues that can coexist with autism, and can sometimes complicate the understanding and management of autism behavior problems. Two such conditions that are commonly associated with autism are Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and anxiety.

Autism and ADHD

Autism and ADHD share some common characteristics, which can sometimes make it difficult to differentiate between the two. These shared characteristics can include difficulty focusing, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. According to the Raising Children Network, it is estimated that 30-80% of autistic children meet the criteria for an ADHD diagnosis.

This overlap of symptoms can sometimes make it difficult to identify and manage the individual needs of a child with both conditions. However, with a thorough understanding of both conditions, and with the right support, these challenges can be effectively addressed.

Autism and Anxiety

Anxiety is another condition that is common among individuals with autism. It is estimated that 40-60% of autistic children experience anxiety [5]. The manifestation of anxiety in autistic individuals can be quite varied and may include generalized anxiety, social anxiety, separation anxiety, or specific phobias.

Anxiety can further complicate the understanding and management of autism behavior problems. For example, an autistic child's sensory sensitivities may lead to anxiety in certain environments, leading to behavioral responses that can be challenging to manage. However, with the right support and strategies, it is possible to manage anxiety and improve the quality of life for autistic individuals.

Understanding these comorbid conditions and the way they interact with autism is crucial for developing effective strategies to manage autism behavior problems. By acknowledging and addressing these comorbid conditions, we can pave the way towards more comprehensive and effective support for individuals with autism.

Addressing Autism Behavior Challenges

Navigating the complexities of autism behavior problems requires understanding, patience, and the use of targeted strategies. Let's delve into some effective strategies for managing behaviors and the role of occupational therapy in this context.

Strategies for Managing Behaviors

There are a number of strategies that can be employed to address autistic traits that may cause significant issues in social settings [2]. These include:

  1. Providing direct instruction: Clear, concise instructions can help individuals with autism understand expectations and respond appropriately.
  2. Remediating challenges: Identifying and addressing the underlying issues that trigger behavioral problems can be beneficial.
  3. Choosing settings carefully: Opting for environments conducive to the individual's sensitivities can help avoid triggering behavioral issues.
  4. Growing a thicker skin to manage emotions: Encouraging individuals with autism to develop resilience can help them cope with challenging situations.
  5. Changing situations completely: If necessary, altering the environment or circumstances can help mitigate behavioral issues.

Addressing real misbehavior may involve setting limits and structure to promote self-discipline. The use of consequences, both positive and negative, can be effective in guiding behavior. Positive consequences can reinforce positive behavior, while negative consequences can communicate the need for different behavior. It's essential that these consequences are aligned with the child's behavior and development level.

Other helpful strategies include establishing clear rules, providing downtime for sensory regulation, planning for challenging situations, and focusing on warm, affectionate reconnection after difficult behaviors. Seeking professional help from a pediatrician or psychologist is recommended if concerns persist despite trying various strategies [6].

Role of Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy plays a significant role in addressing autism behavior challenges. Sensory sensitivities can affect an individual's entire family and might impact their experiences at school. Occupational therapists can assess these sensitivities and develop a plan for managing them.

Occupational therapists also focus on helping children with autism develop skills for positive behavior, including communication, emotional understanding, and social interactions. This approach emphasizes building practical skills for self-care and daily tasks, which can significantly enhance the child's ability to navigate everyday life.

In conclusion, addressing autism behavior problems is a multifaceted process that involves a combination of strategies and professional intervention. Through a thoughtful understanding of the individual's needs and the application of targeted strategies, it's possible to effectively manage these challenges and help the individual thrive.

Impact of Autism Behavior on Social Settings

Autism can significantly influence social interactions. Understanding the characteristics of autism and differentiating them from misbehavior can help create an environment where individuals with autism can thrive.

Social Communication Difficulties

Individuals with autism often struggle with social communication. They may find it challenging to read others' emotions, avoid overreacting to others' feelings, or imitate others' behaviors. These difficulties with social communication can lead to misunderstandings and unintentionally hurtful actions. Sensory challenges can further complicate social interactions, causing individuals with autism to either overreact or underreact to sounds, lights, smells, and touch.

Differentiating Autism Traits and Misbehavior

Understanding the difference between autism traits and misbehavior can help caregivers, educators, and peers better interact with individuals with autism. Autistic behaviors are usually self-evident and differ from neurotypical behaviors. For example, avoiding eye contact can be a way for individuals with autism to decrease unpleasant sensations caused by brain overactivation.

Addressing autistic traits that may cause significant issues in social settings may involve strategies such as providing direct instruction, remediating challenges, choosing settings carefully, managing emotions, or changing situations completely. Addressing real misbehavior, on the other hand, may involve setting limits and structure to promote self-discipline [2].

Understanding and addressing autism behavior problems can help create an inclusive social environment. By differentiating between autism traits and misbehavior, caregivers and educators can better support individuals with autism in social settings.

Autism Stimming and First Responders

First responders often find themselves in situations where they must interact with individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Understanding autism behavior problems, particularly stimming, is essential for these professionals to effectively handle such encounters.

Recognizing Autism Stimming

Autism stimming, or self-stimulatory behavior, is a common characteristic of ASD. Individuals with ASD often display unusual mannerisms like repetitive vocalizations to block out noise, flapping hands as a way to communicate a need for a break, or biting oneself to seek attention or support. These behaviors are likely to become more intense when the individual is agitated, uncomfortable, confused, or afraid.

People with ASD may exhibit emotions that do not align with the situation, like repeated giggling when not amused or appearing extremely distressed even when others are trying to console them. These emotional displays may not fit the context, such as crying or repeatedly asking for something inappropriately.

Individuals with ASD may carry or be focused on favorite objects that provide comfort or help them stay calm, such as stuffed animals, small blankets, magazine ads, pieces of string, or straws. Trying to make them put down these objects may result in an agitated response, and it may be preferable to allow them to hold the objects as long as they are not harmful.

Many individuals with ASD exhibit extreme sensitivity to normal stimuli, like sounds, lights, reflections, and textures, which might cause notable discomfort or distress. These stimuli may seem overwhelming, confusing, or even painful to them, and they may not be able to identify the source of distress, especially in new or confusing situations.

Individuals with ASD often have unusual behaviors such as engaging in repetitive body movements (rocking back and forth, pacing in circles, flapping hands rapidly), refusing to respond (e.g. answer or look at an officer), attempting to run away, trying to injure themselves (e.g. hitting their own head with a fist), or becoming aggressive towards the officer, especially when upset, frustrated, scared, or anxious [1].

Effective Response Strategies

Given the unique challenges associated with interacting with individuals with ASD, first responders need to be well-equipped with effective strategies. When recognizing autism stimming, it's important to:

  • Maintain a calm and patient demeanor. Rapid movements or loud voices can exacerbate anxiety and escalate behaviors.
  • Avoid forcibly taking away objects that provide comfort unless they pose a risk of harm.
  • Use clear, simple language and provide one instruction at a time.
  • Allow extra time for responses and avoid rushing the individual.
  • Respect personal space and avoid unnecessary physical contact.
  • Look for signs of sensory sensitivities and try to minimize exposure to distressing stimuli.
  • Seek assistance from caregivers or family members if possible.

By understanding autism stimming and implementing these response strategies, first responders can ensure the safety and welfare of individuals with ASD during emergencies and other critical situations. This understanding is a vital part of addressing autism behavior problems and can make a significant difference in the outcome of these interactions.