Written by Sakina
A lot of parents feel lost when it comes to behaviours done by their children. Some behaviours seem to occur for no reason while others are triggered due to specific reasons. If we understand where behaviours come from, we can be better equipped to handle them. Note that the word behaviours describe any physical, verbal, or emotional action done in response to a person, environment, or situation. Behaviours can be positive like hugs, giggles, and smiles – or negative like throwing things, yelling, and crying.
There are 4 reasons behaviour can occur. Behaviours are not done for only one reason; it can be a mix of reasons. These 4 reasons are:
1. Attention from others
These behaviours aim to bring focus onto the individual from parents, peers, or anyone around. The attention the individual is looking for does not have to be positive, it can be any type. For example, a child may start screaming for a parent to come to them or ask politely for a parent to come to them.
2. Access to things
In order to gain a physical object, individuals do or say something. For instance, a child may ask for a cookie. If the parent denies the child their request, a child may resort to crying or throwing things to get the cookie or ask when they might get a cookie.
3. Avoiding or escaping unpleasant factors
When someone is made to do something they do not enjoy, they may display behaviours that may aid them in not doing the task at hand. For example, a child may be asked to put their socks on but instead of putting on their feet, they may instead bite the parent or simply walk away from the shoes saying, “No thank you”.
4. Automatic reinforcement or stimulation
Behaviours can sometimes have a calming or pleasing feeling. These behaviours and their encouragements come from one’s own feelings. For example, a child may flap their arms because they enjoy that sensation or hum a tune they enjoy.
When behaviours are negative, they can become hard to manage. Restraining a child is usually a last resort and can become hard as they grow older. De-escalation and lowering arousal are better strategies parents can use. The first step is based on prevention. Most ASD children have sensitive senses and can get overwhelmed by loud sounds, being touched or when surrounded by a lot of people. Each child has their own triggers, and these triggers may change over time. But by having a small understanding of them, a meltdown can be avoided or managed better by being able to remove the trigger. In the event a negative behaviour does occur, avoid giving attention to it. Let us say a child throwing toys. We may not know which specific reason is behind their behaviour, but it is best to not react to the behaviour. Once the child finishes throwing, calmly tell them that they cannot do that, and should be encouraged to ask if they need something or show them an appropriate way to play with their toys. In addition, make sure that they clean up the mess they made after throwing the toys. Their behaviours may have occurred for a reason but that does not excuse them from consequences. If the meltdown is happening in a public space and it is not safe for you and your child, restraint and change of location are better options.
Non-verbal behaviours occur for various reasons, but understanding them and re-directing them to appropriate verbal behaviours can help parents manage negative behaviours and encourage positive ones.
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