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Importance of Behavioral Management for Children with Autism

Updated: Jun 17, 2019

Behavioural management is one of the crux for helping children with autism have great progress in their learning and development

We all express emotions through our behaviours and eventually learn about different ways to relate with others. Our behaviours serve a purpose and with careful observations, it can help us to understand what an individual is trying to communicate.

Have you ever considered that a child who is reluctant to engage in a task may be because the task is not developmentally appropriate for them?

What is behavioural management?

Behavioural management is not just about punishing unwanted behaviours or rewarding desirable behaviours. It is how an adult manages a child’s behaviour through having strategies in place to support children to behave in ways that help them gain the most from their daily lives.

Often times, the root causes of the behaviours are often complex and multifaceted. The child might not even know why he or she finds it difficult to do what has been asked of them and adults may not know too. This is why behaviour management is important because it creates an appropriate, safe and calm environment for learning to take place. If clear boundaries are being established, children are able to develop positive behaviour such as respect, towards each other.

Behavioural management starts with the adult knowing what is the child’s “reinforcers” or motivators. These may include but are not limited to favourite snack, praise, screen time, access to their special toy or games. As a caregiver, strategic guidance is an important aspect of educating and caring for the children to assist them in developing appropriate ways of behaving.

Why is behavioural management so important?

  • Helps to form positive relationships with others

When young children have close, positive and supportive relationships with adults, they are able to attain a higher level of achievement. Imagine a child who feels a strong personal sense of connection with their teacher, communicate with the teacher frequently and receives more constructive guidance and praise. The child will most likely trust and respect the teacher more, show more engagement in his/her learning and conduct himself/herself better. This desire to learn will not only lead to a better achievement but also helps the child retain a strong bond.

  • Manages their feelings and behaviours

As children grow, they strive to become more independent and autonomous in their decisions. They may display extreme behaviours such as crying and kicking and these disruptive behaviours impede learning, sometimes causing developmental delays. For example, when a child constantly cries as a form of communication and you immediately meet his/her needs. The child will eventually learn that the behaviour is acceptable and relies on it heavily to communicate. Over time, it replaces their verbal speech because there is no need for them to find an alternative method to get your attention. If this behaviour continues, the child would experience a speech delay.

By identifying their behaviours and correcting it immediately, you are sending the signal to the child that this behaviour is undesirable and a change needs to be made. Therefore, the objective of behaviour management is to prevent, or at least nip in the bud, the root causes of undesirable behaviours. When such corrections are done consistently, it will reduce the tendency of their undesired behaviours and hopefully, ultimately extinguished it.

At the same time, setting clear boundaries helps children to gain reassurance that the boundaries are still present. A consistent approach to managing their behaviours enables children to express themselves emotionally and helps to support their emotional literacy which is vital for their development.

  • Prepares children for change

Changes in familiar activities, places or people can trigger an increase in anxiety for both adults and children. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can find these things particularly stressful.

By focusing on the transitions for children and finding ways to support them during such times can offer reassurance. For example, if your child faces difficulty switching between activities, try introducing new activities incrementally, starting with one activity that you know he/she will enjoy. Upon successful completion of the activity, provide a reward such as offering praises, stickers or a high five to reinforce and acknowledge achievements. When the child has eased into the current activity and is ready to take on a new one, you can introduce tasks that have not been attempted before.

Children on the spectrum tend to be rigidity-prone, which means having the need to do things a certain way in a fixed order. Though establishing routines is a great boon in facilitating a safe and predictable environment, too much of it can potentially be a bane as small changes can result in a meltdown which would get in the way of acquiring new information and impede learning. This is detrimental in the long run.

(You may read more about why breaking rigidity is important here.)

As such, introducing strategic changes needs to work up slowly and if done right, would help to steady and accelerate children’s learning and promote “flexibility”.

  • Promotes good behaviours and a better quality of life

Children’s behaviour plays a major role in academic achievement as it can affect his/her ability to learn as well as impact the learning environment for other students. Some of the disruptive behaviours may include talking loudly in class, being interested in the surrounding when it is time to focus or any behaviours that interrupt the teacher from effectively carrying out their lessons. Therefore, managing behaviours are the crux in creating a conducive learning environment.

By framing behaviours and expectations in a positive manner, it helps to promote good decision-making skills and a proper view of directions and expectations. This will result in better behaviour whereby they are less likely to test boundaries, act out for attention and fewer instances of mistaken behaviour. Due to the lack of behavioural problems, children will be less distracted and have an easier time concentrating and retaining more important information. Consequentially, absence of disruptive behaviors creates an overall favourable atmosphere for learning to take place and promotes social, emotional and academic success.

In the long run, with consistent positive behaviour support implementation, children will have more opportunity to learn and show empathy, understanding, kindness and sensitivity to others. Thus, they will experience increased positive social interactions and are more likely to achieve success in their current and future endeavours.

  • Building block for success: Consistency

Ultimately, consistency in care is one of the building blocks for success. Regardless of whichever strategies you choose, they must be consistently implemented and constantly reinforce at both school and home in order for them to be effective. Children need reliable and consistent adults who can make them feel physically and emotionally safe so that they can focus on developing skills necessary for self-regulation such as confidence, self-esteem and trust.

Written by Jermaine

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