Effective Autism Behavior Strategies

Explore autism behavior strategies to help unlock potential and enhance social skills in individuals with ASD.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
April 3, 2024

Effective Autism Behavior Strategies

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental condition that affects social interaction, communication, interests, and behavior. It is known as a 'spectrum disorder' because of the wide range of symptoms and severity.

Defining Autism

Autism is characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication, and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behavior. People on the autism spectrum may find social interaction difficult, which can impact their ability to manage conflict, solve problems in the workplace or in relationships, and feel included in different social situations. Additionally, some studies have shown that people on the autism spectrum are more likely to experience bullying than individuals with other disabilities.

A common characteristic of autism is difficulty in processing sensory information and extreme sensitivity or insensitivity to sensory input from the environment. This is observed in 90-95% of individuals with autism, and it can pose a substantial burden to children and families. It can limit participation in leisure activities and is linked to problems with activities of daily living. Impaired sensory processing may also result in poor motor control, affecting participation in daily life [2].

Prevalence and Impact of Autism

Autism is a prevalent condition. In the UK, approximately 1-2% of primary school-aged children are on the autism spectrum. In addition, about 40-90% of children with autism also meet the criteria for at least one anxiety disorder. The impact of autism goes beyond the individual. Parents often report higher levels of stress and loss of earnings. The lifetime cost to the UK economy of supporting an autistic individual is estimated at £0.92-1.5M.

While the figures mentioned above are specific to the UK, autism is a global concern affecting people from all walks of life. It is essential to promote understanding and acceptance of autism, and to explore effective autism behavior strategies to help those on the spectrum reach their full potential.

Autism and Social Interaction

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can significantly impact an individual's ability to interact socially. This section aims to address the importance of social skills and provide effective autism behavior strategies to enhance these abilities.

Cute little boy with bunny ears holding an egg

Importance of Social Skills

For individuals with autism, social interaction can be challenging. This difficulty can impact their ability to manage conflict, solve problems in the workplace or in relationships, and feel included in different social situations. Furthermore, studies indicate that people on the autism spectrum are more likely to experience bullying than individuals with other disabilities.

Despite these challenges, it is essential to note that autistic children can learn social skills and improve them with practice. Enhancing social skills can help them make friends, learn from others, develop hobbies and interests, and improve family relationships. These improvements can provide them with a sense of belonging and enhance their mental health and overall quality of life.

Strategies for Enhancing Social Skills

Various autism behavior strategies can be employed to develop social interaction skills. These strategies can include playing games together, structured play groups, therapy or intervention programs, and structured social skills groups.

One effective strategy involves practicing play skills with autistic children through activities like role-playing, movement games, and traditional games. These activities can help children develop essential social skills like turn-taking, coping with winning and losing, and following rules.

Providing plenty of praise and encouragement when an autistic child interacts positively with others can also reinforce their good social behavior and encourage social skill development.

Role-playing before social events like playdates can help autistic children prepare for social interactions and practice appropriate social behaviors [3].

Furthermore, tools like social stories and visual supports can effectively teach autistic children social skills like communicating and joining in with others. These tools can also help children apply these skills in different situations.

Other strategies that can increase social understanding and develop social skills for individuals with autism include social narratives, comic strip conversations, modeling, and video modeling. These strategies can help individuals with autism develop better social understanding, stay safe, enhance their social interaction skills, reduce anxiety, and create more comfortable feelings.

By continually practicing these strategies, individuals with autism can enhance their social skills, leading to improved social interactions and overall quality of life.

Behavioral Approaches for Autism

One of the effective autism behavior strategies for managing and improving the daily functioning of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) involves behavioral approaches. These approaches, primarily the Positive Reinforcement Strategy and the use of Visual Schedules, have been found to be quite beneficial.

Positive Reinforcement Strategy

Positive reinforcement is a behavior management strategy that has proven to be quite effective in addressing challenging behaviors in children with autism or Asperger's syndrome. It can also aid in teaching new behaviors, from life skills to alternatives to repetitive behaviors [4].

In implementing this strategy, it's crucial to consider factors that have motivated the child in the past, the child's preferences, their deprivation state, and to ensure the reinforcer is practical, ethical, and valid for the behavior being targeted. Examples of positive reinforcement include preferred activities, free time, verbal praise, food-related activities, desired objects, privileges, and tokens [4].

Timing plays a critical role in the effectiveness of positive reinforcement. It's essential for the individual to feel that the goal is achievable and that reinforcement is attainable. For autistic children, a visual system where they can see their progress, such as using ticks on a behavior chart, can enhance the effectiveness of positive reinforcement strategies.

Role of Visual Schedules

Visual schedules are another useful behavioral approach for children with ASD. They can help reduce challenging behavior by presenting daily activities and the sequence in which they will unfold, thereby providing comfort and predictability. The use of visual schedules can promote self-regulation and independence in children with autism spectrum disorder, especially for those struggling with following rules.

Research on interventions to decrease challenging behavior indicates that visual schedules have been shown to be effective for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, particularly those with difficulties meeting academic demands. Introducing visual schedules can reduce parental stress, promote learning, and cooperation in children.

Visual schedules offer predictability and opportunities for frequent reinforcement, as they allow tasks to be broken down into smaller steps, making them easier to complete. By using prompts, reinforcement, and consistent reminders, visual schedules can decrease resistance and escape behaviors in children with autism.

Implementing visual schedules may lead to better organization and reduced anxiety in autistic children, helping them understand what comes next and facilitating transitions between activities. The familiarity of routines presented through visual aids can decrease levels of anxiety and minimize the risk of inattention and misbehavior.

Acknowledging and praising a child's efforts in following visual schedules, celebrating even small achievements, can improve compliance and engagement with the schedule over time. Offering rewards, like a preferred activity at the end of the schedule, can help reinforce adherence to the schedule and encourage positive behavior [5].

Therapeutic Interventions for Autism

When it comes to managing Autism Spectrum Disorder, a combination of therapeutic interventions can be most effective. Among the commonly adopted autism behavior strategies are Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Sensory Integration Therapy, and Speech and Language Therapy. Each of these therapies targets different areas of challenges faced by individuals with autism and contributes to their overall development and well-being.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Applied Behavior Analysis is a widely accepted behavioral approach among educators and healthcare professionals for treating symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder. ABA employs scientifically validated principles of learning to encourage desired behaviors and discourage undesired ones.

The methodology tracks progress and adjusts strategies according to the individual's response. ABA therapy can be instrumental in teaching new skills, promoting independence, and generalizing behaviors across different environments. Its effectiveness lies in its adaptability and the ability to tailor interventions to meet the unique needs of each individual with autism.

Mother playing with her autistic son using toys

Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory Integration Therapy (SIT) aims to help children with autism to synchronize all their senses, potentially improving behaviors associated with difficulties in processing sensory information. Besides targeting challenging or repetitive behaviors, therapists suggest this therapy can also assist with other autism characteristics like difficulties with play and emotional regulation.

However, it's important to note that the evidence base to support the use of Sensory Integration Therapy for children with autism is currently limited, and interventions are poorly defined. While studies adhering to ASI fidelity principles have shown improvement in client-oriented goals, more research is needed to ascertain the effectiveness of SIT as a potential treatment option within the NHS.

Speech and Language Therapy

Speech and Language Therapy is a common developmental approach for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It targets the improvement of specific developmental skills like language skills or physical skills, as well as a broader range of developmental abilities.

Through Speech and Language Therapy, individuals with autism can improve their ability to communicate effectively, understand and use language, and interact socially. The therapy is usually tailored to meet the individual's specific needs and can include strategies for communication skills, social skills, and pragmatic language skills.

The application of these therapeutic interventions, in conjunction with ongoing research, continues to offer hope and improved outcomes for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It's important to remember that each individual is unique and may respond differently to various therapies. Therefore, an individualized approach to treatment, taking into account the child's strengths and challenges, is crucial for effective autism behavior management.

Autism and Parental Engagement

Parental involvement plays a pivotal role in shaping the journey of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder. From understanding the unique needs of their child to assisting in therapy, parents become the primary catalysts in implementing effective autism behavior strategies.

Parental Acceptance and Understanding

For parents of children with autism, fostering relationships based on acceptance and understanding is crucial. This understanding can encompass various aspects of interaction, from learning how to play together, taking turns in a game, to sharing a toy for children, and grasping emotional and social cues like initiating a conversation or understanding unspoken social interactions for adults [1].

People on the autism spectrum often find social interaction challenging, which can impact their ability to manage conflict, solve problems in the workplace or in relationships, and feel included in different social situations. Unfortunately, some studies have shown that people with autism are more likely to experience bullying than individuals with other disabilities [1].

The Role of Parents in Autism Therapy

Parents form an integral part of the autism therapy process. They can facilitate the development of social interaction skills using different strategies, such as playing games together, participating in structured play groups, and implementing therapy or intervention programs [1].

Techniques like social narratives, social stories, comic strip conversations, visual supports, modeling, and video modeling have proven to be effective strategies to enhance social understanding and develop social skills for individuals with autism. These strategies can help individuals with autism foster greater social understanding, improve their social interaction skills, reduce anxiety, and create more comfortable feelings.

By understanding the unique needs of their child and actively involving themselves in their therapy, parents can significantly contribute to improving the social skills of their child and empowering them to navigate their social environment more effectively. It is this level of engagement and acceptance that can truly unlock the potential of individuals with autism.

Overcoming Sensory Processing Difficulties

A key component of effective autism behavior strategies is addressing sensory processing difficulties often faced by individuals on the autism spectrum.

Sensory Processing and Autism

Sensory processing refers to the way the nervous system receives, organizes, and responds to sensory information from the environment. People with autism often experience difficulties in processing sensory information, which can impact their daily life and behaviors. The concept of sensory processing difficulties being related to everyday life challenges was first proposed by A. Jean Ayres, an occupational therapist and educational psychologist, in the 1950s and 1960s.

Techniques for Sensory Integration

To assist children with autism in overcoming these challenges, sensory integration therapy is employed. This therapeutic approach, developed by Ayres in the late 1970s, is designed to help children better use their senses together, potentially improving challenging or repetitive behaviors related to difficulties with processing sensory information.

The therapy uses physical activities and exercises to stimulate sensory responses related to balance and physical movement. Activities may include swinging, bouncing, or climbing. The goal is to help children interpret and use sensory information more effectively, which can potentially assist with other autism characteristics like difficulties with play and emotional regulation.

Limitations and Future Research

Despite the potential benefits of sensory integration therapy, more high-quality research is needed to determine its effectiveness for children with autism. Some studies have indicated potential benefits, but there have been concerns with the study designs, uncertainties regarding how the therapy helps children, and reports of negative effects such as increased self-harming behavior.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines also highlight the need for more research, stating there is insufficient evidence to recommend any single therapeutic approach for sensory processing difficulties (SPDs) in children with autism.

While overcoming sensory processing difficulties is a challenging aspect of autism, it's an essential part of comprehensive autism behavior strategies. As research continues, new interventions and approaches may emerge to better support individuals with autism in navigating their sensory world.


[1]: https://thespectrum.org.au/autism-strategy/social-interaction/

[2]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK581602/

[3]: https://raisingchildren.net.au/autism/communicating-relationships/connecting/social-skills-for-children-with-asd

[4]: http://www.autism-help.org/behavior-positive-reinforcement-autism.htm

[5]: https://www.sidebysidetherapy.ca/autism-spectrum-disorder/how-to-use-visual-schedules-to-reduce-challenging-behaviour/

[6]: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/treatment.html

[7]: https://raisingchildren.net.au/autism/therapies-guide/sensory-integration