How to manage challenging behaviors

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often exhibit challenging behavioral problems such as tantrums, aggression, and non-compliance which are difficult to handle for school teachers and parents. What can teachers and parents do?  Here are some tips to help you manage challenging behaviors:

  1. Stop and think before intervening to manage challenging behaviors.
  2. Attempt to understand the cause of a behavior. For example, a child whining in the candy aisle of the supermarket may simply want to gain access to an item or activity.
  3. Try to identify patterns in what occurs immediately before and (especially) in response to the disruptive behavior.
  4. After understanding the function of the behavior, you can follow below principles:
    • Provide reinforcement to an individual for not engaging in the disruptive behavior. Having powerful reinforcement is the key to drive any intervention. Individuals with ASD are more likely to require additional external reinforcement.
    • Provide appropriate praise when the correct behavior is performed. Reinforcement should be provided contingently. Contingently means that the reinforcement should be given for appropriate behavior.
    • Decrease the reward for the disruptive behavior. For example, if the child whines in the supermarket, do not buy them the food that they want.
    • Provide minimal attention to disruptive behavior. As a general guideline, provide as little attention as needed (positive or negative). However, if there is an unsafe situation occurring, then you should do what is necessary to keep everyone safe.
    • Teach the child an appropriate alternative behavior. For example, you may need to teach the child appropriate language, i.e. Would you please buy me the candy?, to replace the whining behavior. Without teaching the alternative behavior, the disruptive behavior will be less likely to improve or a different problematic behavior will take its place.
    • Be consistent with the intervention.

You can start trying the above tips. For children with autism, it will need some practices and time to overcome challenging behavior. However, you are recommended to seek professional advice and training.


Dr. David Fischer

Behavioral Consultant

Information provided by:

Dr. David Fischer received a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology from Rutgers University, USA, advised by Dr. Sandra Harris. Since 1999, he was worked in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis and with individuals diagnosed with a developmental disability. He completed his pre-doctoral internship and post-doctoral fellowship at the Marcus Institute in Atlanta, Georgia working in the severe behavior unit, short-term-out-patient clinic, feeding disorders unit, and early intervention clinic. From 2007 – 2011, he trained public school teachers to instruct and manage the behavior of their students diagnosed with Autism spectrum disorder. He also was the clinical coordinator of the Asperger’s College Program, which provides support services to Rutgers students diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder.

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