Supporting Individuals with Autism's Severe Behavior Problems

Explore strategies and resources for managing autism severe behavior problems, fostering empathy and understanding.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
April 28, 2024

Supporting Individuals with Autism's Severe Behavior Problems

Understanding Autism Spectrum

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurological and developmental condition that affects social interaction, communication, interests, and behavior. It's called a "spectrum" disorder because people with ASD can have a wide range of symptoms, abilities, and disabilities. Understanding the prevalence of autism in the United States and the commitment to support individuals with ASD is essential to address the challenges they face, including severe behavior problems.

Prevalence in the United States

Autism is a widely prevalent condition in the United States. Recent data suggests that approximately 1 in 45 adults in the U.S. have autism, highlighting the importance of effective resources and services to assist them in living productive lives. These figures underscore the reality that autism is a pervasive condition that impacts many individuals and their families across the country.

Commitment to Support

Given the substantial number of individuals with autism in the U.S., there is a growing commitment to support them. Organizations like Autism Speaks are continuously working on identifying solutions to address the diverse needs of adults with autism. They strive to provide necessary resources and interventions that can improve the quality of life for individuals with autism and help them lead fulfilling lives [1].

Supporting individuals with autism, particularly those with severe behavior problems, requires a multifaceted approach. It entails not only addressing their immediate needs but also working towards creating a society that understands and accepts neurodiversity. This commitment to support is a crucial step towards achieving this goal and ensuring that individuals with autism receive the care and assistance they need.

Resources for Autistic Adults

The prevalence of adults with autism in the U.S. is steadily increasing, with approximately 1 in 45 adults living with autism. This growing population highlights the importance of effective resources and services to assist them in living productive and fulfilling lives.

Important Topics for Autistic Adults

Autism Speaks, a leading autism advocacy organization, continues to work on identifying solutions to address the diverse needs of adults with autism. The organization provides resources on important topics for autistic adults, including newly diagnosed individuals, rights, adult services, therapy options, employment, housing, safety in the community, and various networking groups.

These resources aim to empower adults with autism, allowing them to better understand their condition, explore various therapeutic interventions, and identify suitable employment and housing options. They also provide guidance on navigating societal structures and maintaining safety within the community.

Housing and Residential Supports

Housing is a crucial component of independent living for adults with autism. Recognizing this, Autism Speaks offers a discussion of options and toolkits related to housing and residential supports for autistic adults. These resources aim to assist individuals in finding suitable residential options that cater to their specific needs and aid in their transition to independent living.

Moreover, the Autism Response Team (ART) is available and specially trained to connect individuals with autism, their families, and caretakers to information, tools, and resources. This support network emphasizes the commitment to providing assistance and resources for this community.

In summary, ample resources are available for adults dealing with autism severe behavior problems. These resources, coupled with a supportive network of professionals, family, and friends, can help ensure that individuals with autism lead fulfilling and productive lives.

Behavioral Approaches for Children with Autism

Application of behavioral approaches for children with autism is essential in promoting effective learning and managing autism severe behavior problems.

Evidence-Based Practices for ASD

Federal laws such as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA '04) mandate the use of evidence-based academic and behavioral practices and programs for children with autism [2]. To improve outcomes, educators should implement evidence-based practices (EBPs) that have proven effective in teaching appropriate behaviors, skills, and in decreasing inappropriate behaviors. The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder has identified 27 evidence-based practices for students with ASD.

High-leverage practices (HLPs) that can be used with students with autism include:

  1. Small-group instruction
  2. Functional behavior assessments
  3. Peer-assisted strategies
  4. Organized and supportive learning environments

These practices overlap with EBPs for students with autism [2].

Implementation and Evaluation

When implementing evidence-based practices, educators and practitioners should consider the target behavior, collect baseline data, include the goal in the child's individualized education program (IEP) or individualized family service plan (IFSP), and determine which evidence-based practices can address the target behavior.

It is crucial to collect data on the behavior to evaluate the effectiveness of the evidence-based practice and to ensure fidelity of implementation. This continuous review and evaluation process allows for adjustments and improvements in the behavioral approach, ensuring that it remains effective in managing and improving autism severe behavior problems.

Challenges in Autism Spectrum

Navigating the complexities of the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can present numerous challenges, particularly when it comes to addressing severe behavior problems. This section explores some of the common challenging behaviors associated with ASD and the difficulties faced in their treatment.

Common Challenging Behaviors

Individuals on the autism spectrum often exhibit a range of challenging behaviors. These can include aggression toward others, self-injurious behaviors (SIB), and severe tantrumming. According to a survey, over 40% of individuals with ASD engage in both aggression and SIB, underscoring the prevalence of these behaviors.

Another aspect that contributes to challenging behaviors in individuals with ASD is interoception, the perception of internal sensations within the body. Impairments in interoceptive processing have been reported. Some individuals display exaggerated or hyper-response to internal bodily sensations, while others may have a high threshold for discomfort or pain. Anxiety, a prevalent medical condition in individuals with ASD, is associated with challenging behaviors and may be a setting event or antecedent.

Treatment Challenges

Despite efforts to address these behaviors, treatment has been only moderately successful. In a follow-up survey, it was found that 44% of individuals with ASD who engaged in SIB still engaged in these behaviors 10 years later, highlighting the persistent nature of these challenges.

Numerous medical comorbidities have been associated with autism, including allergies, anxiety, constipation, GERD, migraines, otitis media, rhinitis, sinusitis, and sleep disturbances. Many of these comorbidities co-occur with challenging behaviors, further complicating the treatment process.

Notably, operant conditioning, medical comorbidities, and impaired interoception are utilized to explain why many individuals with ASD engage in challenging behaviors. These factors are crucial for personalized assessment and treatment strategies.

In the quest to effectively manage autism severe behavior problems, understanding these challenges and the factors that contribute to them is essential. This understanding can help in the development of more effective interventions, improving the quality of life for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families.

Severe Behavior Problems in Autism

Severe behavior problems, including self-injury, aggression, and property destruction, can pose significant challenges in individuals with autism. These behaviors can significantly impair an individual's functioning and require targeted, comprehensive treatment approaches [4].

Treatment Approaches

The treatment of severe behavior disorders in individuals with autism involves various approaches, including medication and behavioral interventions. These treatments can be offered in outpatient or inpatient programs, depending on several factors such as the severity of the behavior, risk of losing home, school or vocational placement, proximity to the outpatient program, and the need for medication adjustments [4].

Behavioral treatment for severe problem behavior includes identifying triggers and consequences using a functional assessment approach. The aim is to modify events that lead to problem behaviors, which may involve avoiding triggers, teaching new skills like communication, and reinforcing appropriate behaviors. This method emphasizes proactive and preventive measures to manage and reduce the occurrence of problem behaviors [4].

Multidisciplinary Interventions

Individuals with complex severe behavior problems that do not respond to outpatient treatment may require intensive multidisciplinary treatment. This could involve a team of professionals, including behavioral psychologists and psychiatrists. For those at a very high risk of self-injury or injury to others, inpatient admission to a specialized Neurobehavioral Unit may be necessary.

It's critical to note that certain behavior disorders are directly associated with genetic conditions. The functional assessment process should consider these underlying genetic factors when developing treatment strategies.

Additionally, individuals with autism are more likely to have mental health problems, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, mood disorders, or depression. These can contribute to challenging behaviors.

Behavioral changes in individuals with autism may also indicate an underlying medical issue. Parents and doctors are advised to pay close attention to behavioral patterns and be alert to changes, as individuals with autism may not easily communicate pain or discomfort verbally.

In conclusion, addressing severe behavior in individuals with autism requires a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach that considers the unique needs and circumstances of each individual. A combination of medication, behavioral interventions, and specialized care can significantly improve the quality of life for these individuals and their families.

Addressing Medical Misinterpretations

Understanding the complexities of autism severe behavior problems requires a careful consideration of potential medical misinterpretations. It's essential to distinguish between behaviors linked to autism and those that may be symptoms of underlying medical conditions or mental health disorders.

Medical Conditions vs. Behavior

Medical and dental conditions may often be misinterpreted as behavior problems in individuals with autism. Severe changes in behavior can signal an underlying medical issue, from common issues like constipation to more serious conditions like jaw infections. These health conditions could contribute to behavioral problems that are mistaken for symptoms of autism [5].

Behavioral changes in individuals with autism should not be automatically attributed to their autism diagnosis, as underlying medical conditions could be the cause. Assuming that all behaviors, including self-injury and aggression, are solely due to autism could lead to diagnostic overshadowing, where other health issues are not adequately considered. Medical evaluations should be conducted to ensure appropriate treatment.

Parents and healthcare providers are advised to carefully monitor any behavior changes in individuals with autism, especially those who have difficulty communicating discomfort or pain. Attention to behavioral patterns, as well as collaboration with autism specialists, can help identify underlying issues contributing to challenging behaviors. Prompt assessment and intervention can prevent misdiagnosis or inadequate treatment.

Mental Health Impact on Behavior

People with autism are more likely to have mental health problems that can exacerbate challenging behaviors such as aggression, self-injury, and tantrums. These mental health conditions may include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, mood disorders, or depression. Approximately one in 10 youth with autism will be admitted to a hospital psychiatric unit by age 21 mainly due to these challenging behaviors [5].

Entering a special psychiatric unit for autism is often the last resort for children and teenagers with severe behavior problems related to autism. Prior to reaching this stage, individuals may have tried various interventions, including psychiatric medication, day treatment programs, in-home services, and general psychiatric unit stays. Specialized units tailored to the unique needs of individuals with autism provide a more suitable environment for assessment and treatment.

Understanding the potential medical and mental health factors influencing behavior in individuals with autism is crucial in providing appropriate support and care. By addressing these medical misinterpretations, individuals with autism can receive accurate diagnoses and effective treatment plans.