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How to deal with challenging behaviours that impedes learning in a child with autism or ASD

Learn the simple strategies from behavioural therapist on how to manage challenging behaviours from a child with Autism or ASD

One of the biggest challenges that parents face is managing difficult behaviours by their children. It could range from simple tasks such as refusal to engage in a task or throwing a full-blown tantrum. When caught in such situations, many of us could find ourselves at a loss for an effective way to respond. In the long run, such behaviours are detrimental to the child’s development and learning.

For parents who are at their wits end, some behavioural therapy techniques outlined below can provide a roadmap to a calmer and consistent way to manage challenging behaviours. In addition, it offers a chance to help children gain the developmental skills necessary to regulate their behaviours. While it may be painful when correcting behaviours, the child will be able to achieve better emotional stability and hence greater happiness in the longrun.

Challenging behaviour #1: Distraction

Does your child lie on the floor or play with objects in the middle of a task? These are some of the behaviours that a child can display when they are distracted and off-task.

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can find it difficult to focus on things that do not interest them. However, we know that such inattention issues could be damaging in the long run because paying attention is a key skill for learning. For example, children have to pay attention to a teacher’s instructions to ensure that they are completing the task correctly.

If not corrected promptly, it hinders an individual’s competence to build up receptive language which is the ability to understand information. However, if the child is constantly distracted, he/she might miss the chance of receiving and understanding informational inputs that are being taught.


  • Making eye contact is the first step in teaching your child how to pay attention to people and not just their favourite activities. In order for your child to make eye contact, you can try calling out their names or placing an object within her line of sight and slowly moving it towards you. Eventually, the child will start looking towards you when you call his/her name.

  • Get rid of all distractions before starting on any activities – for example, turning off background music or television

Challenging behaviour #2: Non-compliance

A behaviour could be deemed as non-compliant when children ignore or fail to follow a given command. A child who is regularly non-compliant will have tremendous difficulty in both school and therapy sessions. Firstly, it becomes difficult for the teacher or therapist to transition him/her from an activity to the next. Secondly, the child would not be willing to show his skills and only learn what he/she wants to learn. All these behaviours could hinder the child’s potential in the long run and if continued for an extended period of time, the adult will have no control over them.


  • Find a stronger reinforcer if the child is not responding as this could signal a motivational issue

  • Ignore maladaptive behaviour and wait until more appropriate behaviour is shown before diverting your attention back towards the child.

Challenging behaviour #3: Aggression

Children with ASD sometimes express their feelings of anger, fear, frustrations or anxiety through aggressive behaviours towards others or even themselves. They might hit, kick, throw objects or hurt themselves. Aggressive behaviours hamper a child’s personal performance because he/she will be unavailable for instruction and face a reduction in skills learning and productivity. The lack of work production will negatively impact progress and grades. In addition, when aggression is used as a means to get a message across, it will result in children using fewer words to express themselves. When continued for the long term, it can increase the risk for persistent aggressive behaviour problems.


  • Stay calm and limit what you say to short phrases or words – for example, “Sit down” rather than “Ruth, come here and sit down”

  • Teach your child to express his/her needs positively such as “Mummy, I do not want to play with this toy” and follow up with praise when the child does it instead of allowing him/her to throw the toy around

Finally, if your child is displaying such behaviours above, the practical strategies discussed above are effective and appropriate as a good starting point for helping the child and to enhance his/her learning in the long run. Every experience in dealing with difficult behaviour will be slightly different but being equipped with the right tools is one step towards success. And not to forget, behavioural modification aims to help the child attain greater joy and lesser misery eventually.

Written by Jermaine.

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