How Does Autism Affect Behaviors

Discover how autism affects behavior, from social skills to sensory sensitivities, and explore interventions.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
April 28, 2024

How Does Autism Affect Behaviors

Understanding Autism Behavior

Autism behavior is a complex interplay of neurobiological factors and environmental influences that can affect how an individual with autism perceives, interacts with, and responds to the world. Two key aspects of autism behavior are its impact on social skills and sensory sensitivities.

Impact of Autism on Social Skills

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects approximately one in 68 children, significantly influencing the child's ability to acquire social skills. The development of these skills has lifelong implications for individuals with ASD, affecting their interaction with family and community, academic skills, self-esteem, and independence.

The challenges faced by individuals with ASD in the social realm can range from struggles with verbal and non-verbal communication to difficulties in understanding and responding to social cues. As a result, individuals with ASD can experience challenges in forming and maintaining relationships.

Various interventions, including music therapy, have been recommended as effective treatment options to improve social outcomes in children with ASD. As indicated by measurements of social functioning from the parent or clinician perspective, music therapy can lead to significant improvements in social interaction, verbal communication, and socioemotional reciprocity.

Sensory Sensitivities in Autism

Sensory sensitivities are another significant aspect of autism behavior. Over 96% of children with ASD report hyper and hypo-sensitivities in multiple domains, including auditory, tactile, and visual stimuli [2].

These sensory sensitivities can manifest as either hyper-responsiveness, where an individual is overly sensitive to certain stimuli, or hypo-responsiveness, where an individual has reduced or lack of response to certain stimuli. Both hyper and hypo-responsiveness are more prevalent in individuals with ASD compared to other developmental disabilities.

Atypical behavioral responses to sensory stimuli are common across the autism spectrum and can range from mild to severe. These atypical responses can persist into adulthood, affecting an individual's daily functioning and quality of life.

Auditory processing deficits are a core feature of ASD, with differences in neural activity found as early as the primary auditory cortex. This can result in challenges in processing and interpreting auditory information, contributing to the sensory sensitivities experienced by individuals with ASD.

Understanding the behavioral aspects of autism, including the impact on social skills and sensory sensitivities, can provide valuable insights into the unique experiences and needs of individuals with ASD. This knowledge can inform the development and implementation of effective strategies and interventions to support individuals with ASD in their everyday lives.

Behavioral Responses in Autism

To further comprehend how autism affects behavior, it's essential to delve into the nuances of behavioral responses in autism. These responses often involve atypical sensory responses, auditory processing, and selective attention challenges.

Atypical Sensory Responses

Over 96% of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) report hyper and hypo-sensitivities in multiple domains, including auditory, tactile, and visual stimuli. These atypical behavioral responses to sensory information are common across the autism spectrum, ranging from mild to severe, and can persist into adulthood. It's also worth noting that sensory hyper and hypo-responsiveness are more prevalent in individuals with ASD compared to other developmental disabilities.

Sensory Response Prevalence in ASD
Hypersensitivity (over-responsiveness) 96%
Hyposensitivity (under-responsiveness) 96%

Auditory Processing in Autism

Auditory processing deficits are a core feature of ASD, with differences in neural activity found as early as the primary auditory cortex. This essentially means that individuals with ASD may process sounds differently than those without the condition. For instance, they may be hypersensitive to certain sounds, while being hyposensitive to others. This can lead to distressing reactions to common sounds, or an unusual lack of response to significant auditory cues.

Selective Attention Challenges

Selective attention refers to the capacity to focus on certain stimuli while simultaneously ignoring others. This is an area where individuals with ASD often face challenges. They may struggle with switching attention between stimuli of different types and deciding what information to attend to and ignore. This can result in difficulties in communication and social interaction, as well as challenges in learning and adapting to new environments.

These behavioral responses are vital to understand when considering the impact of autism on behavior. They underline the complexity of the condition and the diverse ways it can manifest in individuals on the spectrum. It's important to remember that these behaviors are part of the individual's neurological makeup and not a result of defiance or lack of discipline.

Challenging Behaviors in Autism

When discussing how autism affects behavior, it's crucial to acknowledge the presence of challenging behaviors often associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These behaviors can include aspects such as aggression, self-injury, and severe tantrums, which can be distressing for both the individual with ASD and those around them.

Aggression and Self-Injury

Aggression towards others and self-injurious behaviors are commonly reported among individuals on the autism spectrum. More than 40% of individuals with ASD engage in both aggression and self-injurious behavior. Additionally, approximately 59% of individuals with autism engage in self-injury, aggression, and/or destructiveness at some point in their lifetime, as per the Autism Research Institute's E-2 database.

Behaviors % of Individuals
Aggression >40%
Self-Injury >40%
Destructiveness 59%

These behaviors can be highly disruptive and pose significant challenges for the individuals and their families. Understanding the triggers and patterns of these behaviors is a crucial step towards managing them effectively.

Treatment of Challenging Behaviors

The treatment of challenging behaviors in individuals with ASD has been moderately successful, with 44% of individuals still engaging in these behaviors 10 years later. This highlights the complexity of these behaviors and the need for ongoing support and intervention.

One approach identified as a significant contributor to challenging behaviors in individuals with ASD is operant conditioning. This involves an antecedent provoking a behavior followed by reinforcement. The consequences, such as escaping a situation or obtaining attention from others, play a role in maintaining these behaviors.

Furthermore, medical comorbidities, such as allergies, anxiety, constipation, and sleep disturbances, have been associated with challenging behaviors in individuals with ASD. These comorbidities can act as antecedents or setting events for the behaviors [3].

Treatment for challenging behaviors associated with ASD often involves a multi-faceted approach. This can include behavioral interventions, medication, and addressing any underlying medical conditions. It's important to remember that each individual with ASD is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Therefore, treatments and interventions should be personalized to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the individual.

Understanding the dynamics of autism and behavior is crucial for providing effective support and interventions. While challenging behaviors can be difficult to manage, with the right strategies and support, individuals with ASD can thrive in their daily lives.

Interventions for Autism Behavior

Addressing the question of 'how does autism affect behavior' involves exploring a variety of interventions that have been developed to support individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These interventions aim to enhance their social skills, communication abilities, emotional regulation, and overall quality of life. Let's delve into a couple of these interventions, namely Early Intervention Programs and Social Skills Development.

Early Intervention Programs

Early Intervention Programs are essential in managing autism behaviors. The most prominent type of intervention for individuals with ASD is Comprehensive Early Intervention, also known as Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI). Studies have found EIBI to be particularly effective in improving intelligence and adaptive behaviors.

Furthermore, EIBI has been shown to result in significant improvements in IQ and adaptive behaviors, along with additional improvements in language, cognitive function, and social interaction.

Another beneficial early intervention program is the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM). ESDM is a naturalistic developmental behavioral intervention that focuses on improving social development and communication skills in children with ASD. Research has shown positive effects of ESDM on language, imitation skills, and social communication [5].

Social Skills Development

In addition to early intervention programs, social skills training (SST) plays a vital role in autism behavior intervention. SST has been found to be effective in improving social skills in individuals with ASD. Rigorous studies have shown medium to large effect sizes in improvement in social skills and social responsiveness.

Moreover, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective method for dealing with emotional difficulties in individuals with autism, such as depression, anxiety, and anger. However, access to CBT for individuals with autism is often limited due to the shortage of trained experts.

These interventions for autism behavior underscore the importance of personalized and early interventions in managing ASD. The ultimate goal is to enhance the individual's ability to engage and interact effectively with their environment and the people around them.

Cognitive and Emotional Aspects

A crucial aspect of understanding how autism affects behavior involves exploring the cognitive and emotional aspects associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). These aspects encompass executive functioning challenges and the therapeutic approach of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Executive Function Challenges

Individuals with ASD often experience executive function impairments, affecting advanced cognitive skills like attention, working memory, planning, reasoning, sequencing, and flexible thinking. These cognitive skills are essential in various aspects of social interactions, academics, learning, and daily living activities.

For example, an individual with ASD might have difficulty maintaining focus on a task, organizing their thoughts, or shifting their attention from one activity to another. These challenges can significantly impact their ability to interact with others, process information, and perform routine tasks.

Despite these challenges, there are multiple therapeutic approaches available that can help individuals with ASD enhance their cognitive skills. These include but are not limited to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and occupational therapy, both of which focus on encouraging desired behaviors and teaching essential skills for living independently, respectively.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective method for dealing with emotional difficulties often seen in individuals with autism, such as depression, anxiety, and anger. CBT aids in recognizing and changing patterns of thought that lead to problematic behaviors or emotional distress.

In individuals with ASD, CBT can be particularly beneficial in addressing issues such as social anxiety and difficulties in understanding and managing emotions. However, access to CBT for individuals with autism is often limited due to the shortage of trained experts.

In addition to CBT, there are other approaches to addressing emotional difficulties associated with autism. For instance, social-relational treatments focus on enhancing social skills and building emotional connections, with some approaches involving parents or peer mentors to support the development of social skills.

Understanding the cognitive and emotional aspects of autism is vital in gaining a comprehensive view of how autism affects behavior. It highlights the need for targeted interventions that address these specific aspects, ultimately improving the quality of life for individuals with autism.

Sensory Differences in Autism

One of the key aspects of how autism affects behavior lies in the sensory differences that autistic individuals might experience. These can have significant impacts on how they interact with the world around them, leading to unique behaviors and responses that can sometimes be challenging to understand.

Sensory Overload and Meltdowns

Sensory differences in autistic individuals can manifest as over- or under-sensitivity in any of their senses, affecting how they feel and act, and significantly impacting their lives. This can sometimes lead to sensory overload due to too much information, which can cause stress, anxiety, and even physical pain. This sensory overload can, in turn, result in withdrawal, distressed behavior, or meltdowns, which are intense reactions that can be overwhelming for both the individual and those around them.

Strategies for Sensory Support

Given these sensory challenges, it's crucial to have strategies in place to support autistic individuals. Depending on the specific sensory differences, these strategies can range from modifications in the environment to the use of certain tools or aids.

For instance, autistic individuals may experience sensory differences related to vision, such as distorted vision, sensitivity to bright lights, and challenges with depth perception. In such cases, modifications to the environment, including reducing fluorescent lighting and providing sunglasses, could be beneficial [8].

Sound sensitivities can lead to challenges such as distorted and muddled sounds, inability to filter background noise, and hypersensitivity to certain sounds. Strategies like using earplugs, providing visual supports, and preparing individuals before entering noisy environments can be helpful.

Autism can also affect an individual's sense of touch, leading to behaviors like smearing feces, chewing on clothing and objects, or experiencing pain upon touch. To support these individuals, offering alternatives for handling textures, using weighted objects, and adjusting clothing for comfort can be beneficial [8].

In conclusion, understanding the sensory differences in autism and how they affect behavior is crucial in providing effective support and care for autistic individuals. By implementing these strategies and adjustments, it's possible to create a more comfortable and inclusive environment that caters to their unique sensory needs.